As we process forward to receive our ashes, we will hear these or similar words: "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19) or "Repent, and believe in the Gospel." (Mark 1:15)
Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence as mandated by the Church. We refrain from eating to draw closer to God. We offer up our fasting as a sacrifice for sins; our sins and the "sins of the whole world" as we remember during the prayer of Divine Mercy.
Ashes were used to express sorrow or deep mourning in Scripture. When Jonah preached repentance to the Ninevites, Scripture tells us that the King of Ninevah, "rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes." - Jonah 3:6
Daniel, striving to understand the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, says, "I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes." - Daniel 9:3
The Psalmist, crying out to the Lord, prayed "I eat ashes like bread, mingle my drink with tears." - Psalm 102:10
Fortunately, the Church does not require us to wear sackcloth, but we are asked to fast, pray and repent.
Lent is a somber time; a time of quiet reflection and amendment of purpose. We must all strive to make the most of these 40 days as 'wilderness' time: we are seeking the Promised Land. We will arrive, blessed and refreshed, at the Easter Vigil, where with the whole Church, the Communion of Saints, and in the presence of the seraphim and cherubim gathered round, we will all joyfully proclaim Christ's Resurrection.
May you have a Blessed Lent. May your meditations, prayers, fasting, and amendment of purpose, be united with the prayers of our Blessed Mother, as she brings us closer and closer to her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
When I was first a Catholic, I found this prayer in the Book of Job which spoke deeply to my heart and does so today. May it speak also to your heart: