Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday and its symbolism

Many people are unaware or uneducated on exactly what Ash Wednesday is. Since today is Ash Wednesday I thought I would dedicate this post to the explanation of its history and symbolism. Feel free to ignore this post if you wish, I will not be offended. My only hope is to spread the word of God and help those who want to learn better understand.

History~

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.
 In the Catholic Church, ashes, being sacramentals, may be given to anyone who wishes to receive them, as opposed to Catholic sacraments, which are generally reserved for church members, except in cases of grave necessity. Similarly, in other Christian denominations ashes may be received by all who profess the Christian faith and are baptized.


Why we receive the ashes

Following the example of the Nine vites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and reminds us that life passes away on Earth. We remember this when we are told
"Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return."
Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice.
The distribution of ashes comes from a ceremony of ages past. Christians who had committed grave faults performed public penance. On Ash Wednesday, the Bishop blessed the hair shirts which they were to wear during the forty days of penance, and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms from the previous year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the church because of their sins -- just as Adam, the first man, was turned out of Paradise because of his disobedience. The penitents did not enter the church again until Maundy Thursday after having won reconciliation by the toil of forty days' penance and sacramental absolution. Later, all 
Christians, whether public or secret penitents, came to receive ashes out of devotion. In earlier times, the distribution of ashes was followed by a penitential procession.

The Ashes

The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. His Divine mercy is of utmost importance during the season of Lent, and the Church calls on us to seek that mercy during the entire Lenten season with reflection, prayer and penance.
What is fasting and why do we do it?
Voluntarily Avoiding Something Good: Fasting, broadly speaking, is the voluntary avoidance of something that is good. When Catholics talk about fasting, we normally mean restricting the food that we eat. We can fast between meals, by not eating snacks, or we can engage in a complete fast by abstaining from all food. The English word breakfast, in fact, means the meal that breaks the fast. While fasting takes the form of refraining from eating, it is primarily a spiritual discipline designed to tame the body so that we can concentrate on higher things.

Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving - The Swiss Army Knife of the Spirit: That is why fasting is usually mentioned along with prayer and almsgiving (or charity). By controlling the passions of the body, we free our souls for prayer.  And by refraining from eating, we free up food or money that we can give to those less fortunate than ourselves. The three spiritual disciplines go hand in hand, and the Church calls us to practice all three together, especially during the season ofLent.
If you would like more information you can find it here or here. Tomorrow I hope to better explain Lent and why we either give something up or choose to do something. 
Mary xx

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