ASH WEDNESDAY

Ashes

Q: What is Ash Wednesday?

A: Ash Wednesday is the day Lent begins. It occurs forty days before Good Friday.

Q: Is Ash Wednesday based on a pagan festival?

A: Heck, no. Ash Wednesday originated in the A.D. 900s, long after Europe had been Christianized and the pagan cults stamped out.

Q: Why is it called Ash Wednesday?

A: Actually, Ash Wednesday is its colloquial name. Its official name is the Day of Ashes. It is called Ash <Wednesday> because, being forty days before Good Friday, it always falls on a Wednesday and it is called <Ash> Wednesday because on that day at church the faithful have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross.

Q: Why do they have their foreheads marked with a cross?

A: Because in the Bible a mark on the forehead is a symbol of a person’s ownership. By having their foreheads marked with the sign of a cross, this symbolizes that the person belongs to Jesus Christ, who died on a Cross.

This is in imitation of the spiritual mark or seal that is put on a Christian in baptism, when he is delivered from slavery to sin and the devil and made a slave of righteousness and Christ (Rom. 6:3-18).

It is also in imitation of the way the righteousness are described in the book of Revelation, where we read of the servants of God (the Christian faithful, as symbolized by the 144,000 male virgins):

“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.”(Revelation 7:3)

“[The demon locust] were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those of mankind who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads”(Revelation 9:4)

“Then I looked, and lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.”(Revelation 14:1)

This is in contrast to the followers of the beast, who have the number 666 on their foreheads or hands.

The reference to the sealing of the servants of God for their protection in Revelation is an allusion to a parallel passage in Ezekiel, where Ezekiel also sees a sealing of the servants of God for their protection:

“And the LORD said to him [one of the four cherubim], ‘Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark [literally,”a <tav”>] upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.’ And to the others he said in my hearing, ‘Pass through the city after him, and smite; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; slay old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one upon whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.’ So they began with the elders who were before the house.”(Ezekiel 9:4-6)

Unfortunately, like most modern translations, the one quoted above (the Revised Standard Version, which we have been quoting thus far), is not sufficiently literal. What it actually says is to place a <tav> on the foreheads of the righteous inhabitants of Jerusalem. <Tav> is one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and in ancient script it looked like the Greek letter <chi>, which happens to be two <crossed> lines (like an “x”) and which happens to be the first letter in the word “Christ” in Greek <(christos).> The Jewish rabbis commented on the connection between <tav> and <chi> and this is undoubtedly the mark Revelation has in mind when the servants of God are sealed in it.

The early Church Fathers seized on this <tav-chi->cross-<christos> connection and expounded it in their homilies, seeing in Ezekiel a prophetic foreshadowing of the sealing of Christians as servants of Christ. It is also part of the background to the Catholic practice of making the sign of the cross, which in the early centuries (as can be documented from the second century on) was practiced by using one’s thumb to furrow one’s brow with a small sign of the cross, like Catholic do today at the reading of the Gospel during Mass.

Q: Why is the signing done with ashes?

A: Because ashes are a biblical symbol of mourning and penance. In Bible times the custom was to fast, wear sackcloth, sit in dust and ashes, and put dust and ashes on one’s head. While we no longer normally wear sackcloth or sit in dust and ashes, the customs of fasting and putting ashes on one’s forehead as a sign of mourning and penance have survived to this day. These are two of the key distinctives of Lent. In fact, Ash Wednesday is a day not only for putting ashes on one’s head, but also a day of fasting (see below).

Q: What are some biblical examples of people putting dust and ashes on their foreheads?

A: Consider the following verses from the New International Version:

“That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh, his clothes torn and dust on his head.”(1 Samuel 4:12)

“On the third day a man arrived from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and with dust on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground to pay him honor.”(2 Samuel 1:20

“Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.”(2 Samuel 13:19)

“When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head.”(2 Samuel 15:32)

Q: Is there another significance to the ashes?

A: Yes. They also symbolize death and so remind us of our mortality. Thus when the priest uses his thumb to sign one of the faithful with the ashes, he says, “Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return, “which is modeled after God’s address to Adam (Genesis 3:19; cf. Job 34:15, Psalms 90:3, 104:29, Ecclesiastes 3:20). This also echoes the words at a burial, “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust, “which is based on God’s words to Adam in Genesis 3 and Abraham’s confession, “I am nothing but dust and ashes”(Genesis 18:27). It is thus a reminder of our mortality and our need to repent before this life is over and we face our Judge.

Q: Where do the ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from?

A: They are made by burning palm fronds which have been saved from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, they are then blessed by a priest—blessed ashes having been used in God’s rituals since the time of Moses (Numbers 19:9-10, 17).

Q: Why are ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday used?

A: Because Palm Sunday was when the people rejoiced at Jesus’ triumphal entrance to Jerusalem. They celebrated his arrival by waving palm fronds, little realizing that he was coming to die for their sins. By using palms from Palm Sunday, it is a reminder that we must not only rejoice of Jesus’ coming but also regret the fact that our sins made it necessary for him to die for us in order to save us from hell.

Q: Is having one’s forehead signed with ashes required of the faithful?

A: No, it is not required. However, it is to be strongly encouraged as it is a fitting and visible spiritual reminder that encourages one to adopt an attitude of prayer, repentance, and humility. As James said: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”(James 4:10).

Q: Is Ash Wednesday a holy day of obligation, that is, a day on which we are required to go to Mass?

A: No, it is not a holy day of obligation. However, it is strongly advisable since it is fitting to mark the beginning of penitential season of Lent by going to Mass. The formal, corporate worship of God is a good way to get a good start to the season. Also, even though it is not a holy day of obligation, it is a day of fast and abstinence.

Q: Why isn’t Ash Wednesday a holy day of obligation?

A: Holy days of obligation are either commemorations of particular events (such as the birth of Christ or the presentation of Jesus in the Temple), particular people (such as Jesus’ earthly father, St. Joseph), or important theological concepts (such as the Kingship of Christ). Ash Wednesday does not commemorate any event (nothing special happened forty days before the crucifixion—at least not that we know of), and could only be said to indirectly commemorate a Person (Christ) since it is the beginning of preparation for the greater celebrations of Christ’s saving work, which follow, and although Ash Wednesday is a day of penance (like all of the days of Lent except Sundays, which are feast days no matter when they occur in the liturgical calendar since they celebrate Christ’s resurrection), the Church has never chosen to make it or any other specific day the definitive commemoration of the concept of repentance.

Reference: EWTN, James Akin

Has Christ been divided? (1 Cor 1:13)

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Of course, Christ was not divided. But we should recognize with sincerity and pain that our communities continue to live in division that is scandalous. Division among us Christians is a scandal. There is no other word: a scandal. “Each one of you,” St Paul wrote, “says, ‘I belong to Paul,” or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ’I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ’” (1:12).

Even those who professed Christ as their leader were not applauded by Paul, because they used the name of Christ to separate themselves from others within the Christian community. But the name of Christ creates communion and unity, not division! He came to bring communion among us, not to divide us.

Baptism and the Cross are central elements of the Christian discipleship which we share. Division, however, weakens the credibility and effectiveness of our work in evangelization and risks stripping the Cross of its power (cf. 1 Cor 1:17).

Paul rebukes the Corinthians for their disputes, but he also gives thanks to the Lord “because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge” (1 Cor 1:4-5). These words of Paul are not a mere formality, but a sign that he sees primarily — and for this he sincerely rejoices — the gifts given by God to the community. The Apostle’s attitude is an encouragement for us and for every Christian community to joyfully recognize God’s gifts in other communities. Despite the suffering of division, which sadly still exist, let us welcome the words of St Paul as an invitation to sincerely rejoice for the graces God has given to other Christians. We have the same Baptism, the same Holy Spirit who gave us the Grace: let us recognize it and rejoice in it.

It is beautiful to recognize the grace with which God blesses us and, still more, to find in other Christians something we need, something that we could receive like a gift from our brothers and our sisters. The group from Canada who prepared the texts for this Week of Prayer did not invite communities to think about what they could give to their neighbour Christians, but urged them to meet with one another in order to understand what they all can receive each from the others. This requires something more. It requires much prayer, it requires humility, it requires reflection and continual conversion. Let us go forward on this path, praying for the unity of Christians, that this scandal lessens and that it may cease among us. – Papa Francis

Why Sacraments Are Necessary ?

sacraments

Almighty God can and does give grace to men in answer to their internal aspirations and prayers without the use of any external sign or ceremony. This will always be possible, because God, grace, and the soul are spiritual beings. God is not restricted to the use of material, visible symbols in dealing with men; the sacraments are not necessary in the sense that they could not have been dispensed with. But, if it is known that God has appointed external, visible ceremonies as the means by which certain graces are to be conferred on men, then in order to obtain those graces it will be necessary for men to make use of those Divinely appointed means. If we wish to obtain a certain supernatural end we must use the supernatural means appointed for obtaining that end. This is the reason sacraments are necessary.

#Ref: D.J. KENNEDY

Man is endangering both himself and the world!

lightoftheworld

“Man is in any case incapable of mastering history by his own power. Man is clearly in danger, and he is endangering both himself and the world; we could even say we have scientific evidence of this. Man can be saved only when moral energies gather strength in his heart; energies that can come only from the encounter with God; energies of resistance.

We therefore need him, the Other, who helps us be what we ourselves cannot be; and we need Christ, who gathers us into a communion that we call the Church.” – Papa Benedict XVI

Option for the poor

Options For the Poor

“When the Church speaks of the preferential option for the poor, she does so in light of the Lord’s universal love which was seen precisely in his preference for those who needed him most. It is not an ideological option; neither is it a matter of letting oneself be trapped by a false theory of class struggle as a vehicle of historical change. Love for the poor is something which is born of the Gospel itself and which must not be formulated nor presented in terms of conflict.

In fact, to forestall unacceptable reductionism it is imperative to emphasize that this love for the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the needy of all types is neither exclusive nor excluding. Jesus was born, suffered, died and rose for all people. He came to proclaim divine sonship with the Father, as well as fraternity among all peoples, called to be children in the Son. Therefore nothing is more alien to one who is called to act “in the person of Christ,” than to shorten the universal reach of his mission and his love.” – John Paul II

To the Eastern traditions and to the Western traditions

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…This appeal calls on the Churches of the East and the West to concentrate on the essential: “We cannot come before Christ, the Lord of history, as divided as we have unfortunately been in the course of the second millennium. These divisions must give way to rapprochement and harmony; the wounds on the path of Christian unity must be healed.”

Going beyond our own frailties, we must turn to him, the one Teacher, sharing in his death so as to purify ourselves from that jealous attachment to feelings and memories, not of the great things God has done for us, but of the human affairs of a past that still weighs heavily on our hearts. May the Spirit clarify our gaze so that together we may reach out to contemporary man who is waiting for the good news. If we make a harmonious, illuminating, life – giving response to the world’s expectations and sufferings, we will truly contribute to a more effective proclamation of the Gospel among the people of our time. – John Paul II

Hurray! Pope issues first Apostolic Exhortation: Evangelii Gaudium

The Joy of GospelI was waiting so long for this. Over Joyed. Reading it!

“In strikingly direct and personal language, the Pope appeals to all Christians to bring about a “revolution of tenderness” by opening their hearts each day to God’s unfailing love and forgiveness. The great danger in today’s consumer society, he says, is “the desolation and anguish” that comes from a “covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.” Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests , he warns, “there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.”As we open our hearts, the Pope goes on, so the doors of our churches must always be open and the sacraments available to all. The Eucharist, he says pointedly, “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” And he repeats his ideal of a Church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets” rather than a Church that is caught up in a slavish preoccupation with liturgy and doctrine, procedure and prestige. “God save us,” he exclaims, “from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!” Urging a greater role for the laity, the Pope warns of “excessive clericalism” and calls for “a more incisive female presence in the Church”, especially “where important decisions are made.” …

Awesome!