The “ash” is imposed on the foreheads, a sign which is strange in many tribes and cultures. To understand the meaning of this practice especially with the Catholics and Anglican Christians, we must pay attention to the words used when imposing the ashes on the forehead. One of these phrases is used:
- Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
- Turn away from your sins and believe in the Gospel.
Ashes recall to our minds our physical and spiritual weaknesses.
In our world we see people who wield a great amount of power. There are people who are so wise that they astound us with their wisdom and inventions. There are wealthy people who don’t even know the extent of their possessions.
Let few years pass, and these powerful, wise and wealthy people will die like the weakest, simplest and poorest people. If their tombs are opened after a few years the contents would be very much the same. We are all equal in the face death : dust and bones!
I am sure you have seen a house going up in flames, in a village or town. No matter how great our efforts to stop it, everything goes up in flames. The house we built with so much effort and care, the clothes we kept so carefully, the money we’ve been saving up, objects we treasured, may be bequeathed to us by our ancestors.
That fire can be a symbol of sin and the havoc it causes. That fire turns into ashes whatever is precious in our lives. Similarly, sin destroys the best in our lives: God’s life in the spirit within us, the fruits of all the good we have done, the peace, joy and love in our hearts, the harmony and good will in the community.
The ash that is imposed on our forehead is a reminder to think of a life that is “eternal”, not consumed by fire or ending in death. It is a sign of hope and an invitation to start a new life. It is a time of repentance and he beginning a new life, a time to check whether the plans of our life will yield a harvest that is endless.
Ash Wednesday is also a time of fast and abstinence. Fasting is giving up food and experiencing hunger at least for a few hours. Abstinence is giving up some food that we relish.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent (40 days) when we are invited to do penance, not just fasting and abstinence. There are so many ways of doing penance, like: bearing sickness and pain for God’s love, more patience in accepting difficulties and inconveniences of daily life, doing our duties better, being kind and forgiving to those we dislike.
May Ash Wednesday usher in a season of Grace and Blessings on all Christians, preparing to rise with Christ at Easter!
Fr. Dominic Kachira, sdb