Being raised Roman Catholic, I grew up a little scared of Ash Wednesday. I don’t think I was the only one. In our home parish they even shrouded the gold leafed statues and altar niches, and took away the filigree candle holders. Lent was somber, bleak even. And there was emphasis on fasting and abstinence…which meant giving up stuff. Stuff I didn’t really understand why I needed to give up. In my adult life and as a member of a very comtemporary Bible church, Ash Wednesday wasn’t observed. It wasn’t until I worked for a United Methodist Church that I began to understand the opportunity for spiritual journey and discipline, and the marking of time and hearts.
My pastor boss was really good at making Worship a personal experience for the congregation, because it was personal for him. He looked forward to Ash Wednesday. As I recall, he usually fasted, and made ready for the evening service, insisting on doing certain things himself, as if even the movement of his body were a prayer of preperation. Ashes were always part of the service. Pastor looked forward to imposing ashes on the foreheads of members, and often, emotionally. Why? He would say they marked the passage of time and life—some of the crosses were made with joy but he also knew some he made would most likely be for the last time. For him, it was a most intimate service.
Ash Wednesday, especially imposing ashes is an observation found usually in more traditional churches, and part of the liturgical season. I have every hope most churches do a better job of explaining the why of the tradition. Here is what Monsignor Michael F. Hull, tells us:
“The liturgical use of ashes in the Church dates back to well before the eighth century. Ashes have a long history in the Bible itself, where they are a symbol of penance, and were used in the Church as a general sign of repentance before being prescribed for Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent. We use ashes to this very day; we used them just a few days ago. Through the efficacy of the priest’s blessing, ashes are made a sacramental. And when they are imposed, they are imposed for a simple reason: to give an exterior sign to an interior spirit of humility and penance.”
What I am grateful for now is how Ash Wednesday is a deeply personal and spiritual day because I was blessed with working for an awesome man of God who understood how to make is so. I hope you have such a pastor in your life and that you will observe the Lenten season with something that grows your spiritual relationship with Jesus.
Here are some Internet friends who have some posts you might be interested in reading:
Happy Lent – A blog set up for Lent by Helen
Faith, Fiction, Friends – Ash Wednesday post by Glynn Young
Writing Without Paper – Prayer for Ash Wednesday by Maureen Doalles
Moonboat Cafe – 40 Days of Lent by Cassandra Frear
Graceful: Faith in Everyday – A Lenten devotional by Michelle DeRusha
A Holy Experience – Why Do Lent? Why a Failing Lent Actually Succeeds by Ann Voskamp
Do let me know if you found some other blogs that are helping you on a Lenten journey.