Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, that holy day that signals the beginning of the Lenten Season, dates back to the early Church and the use of ashes originally signified mourning. A penitent sinner would use ashes to show in a literal, physical way their sorrow and repentance.

We read in the book of Job (42:3-6), “Job says to God: ‘I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees Thee. Therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’”

Job, repenting of his harsh words spoken to God, acknowledges the power of God and in the presence of such Power, is sorrowful.

When I was a Protestant, depending on who was the pastor at my church in any given year, the practice of applying ashes to foreheads on Ash Wednesday varied. Some pastors were accepting of the idea of ashes; others were not. So some years, we received ashes; some we did not! It is only in recent years that many Protestant denominations (Methodist, for one), have returned to the ancient practice of ashes on Ash Wednesday.
The Catholic Church, however, has always seen the distribution of ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a very important, vital aspect of the Lenten Season.

The Second Vatican Council, in their document Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #109, turned the focus of Lent from mourning and sorrow to “a period of closer attention to the Word of God and more ardent prayer.”

By using the forty days of Lent as a focused period of prayer and Scripture reading in anticipation of the Glorious Easter Resurrection, this time can have profound meaning for us if we enter into it with the right spirit and the right tools.

The Spirit comes to us in prayer. We seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit who will enable us to ‘lean into’ the Lenten days with repentant hearts and minds. We acknowledge our sinfulness; our inability to walk the straight path and to enter through the narrow gate. We acknowledge our total and utter dependence upon the Lord to motivate us, to spur us on.

With the Spirit to guide us, we search for the right tools for the journey. Certainly, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of our prime tools. We clean up our souls and “dust off” our venial sins in preparation for these 40 days of fasting, abstinence, prayer, and meditation upon Scripture.

Another tool is the Sacrament of the Eucharist. We partake wholly and with deep reverence as we eat the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord. We are there as Christ institutes the Eucharist at the Last Supper. We draw closer to Him in the most intimate of ways.

We read Holy Scripture, meditating on the days leading up to our Lord’s Passion, particularly those Scripture passages given to us in the Lectionary as appropriate for this holy season. We pray the Holy Rosary, meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries and deepening our understanding of them.

We read spiritual books which point us in the right direction for this Lenten preparation. One of my favorites is Francis Fernandez’s In Conversation with God, Vol II, Lent and Eastertide, which are heavily dependent upon the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei.

We can perhaps take some time to enjoy special movies that portray our Lord’s life and Passion, such as Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth or Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

All these tools, when used in conjunction with and in the power of the Holy Spirit, should help to draw us closer to our Lord and His Passion.

I pray that each and every one of us draw closer to Jesus during this sacred time. May we all ‘lean into’ the season of Lent with contrite hearts and steadfast love.

May we pray with Job: ‘I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees Thee. Therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’ Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment