Mar 8, 2011

History Of Ash Wednesday


March 9, 2011 is Ash Wednesday Traditionally, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent.  The day is marked by a ritual where a priest or pastor applies ashes in the shape of a cross to the foreheads of Christians.  The ritual signifies repentance.  In a traditional service, the priest or pastor will speak the words, "For dust you are and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19).

Originally known as dies cinerum (or, day of ashes), Ash Wednesday has ancient roots in the Christian tradition.  The day is mentioned in the earliest copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary, dating back at least to the 8th century. The Gregorian Sacramentary is a sacred text of the Middle Ages, a portion of which is pictured below:

Where are the ashes obtained for the Ash Wednesday?  Typically, the ashes are made from fronds distributed on the previous Palm Sunday, a date which recalls Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem among throngs of people waving palm branches.


For many, because Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, it is associated with a season of penance.  For a more spiritually uplifting take on Lent, check out the wonderful Huffington Post article by Sister Joan Chittister (see the link below under related articles).  After recounting the historical context in which Lent arose, Sister Chittister writes:
Lent is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.
Lent is a summons to live anew.
We live in a Nation - a World - that is bitterly divided.  Christians oppose Muslims; Muslims oppose Christians, each calling the other "infidel."  If Sister Chittister is right, then tomorrow begins a season to reflect and modify our outlook, behavior and being.  It is not just about counting the days until we can imbibe, engage in, or enjoy something we have given up in mechanical observation of the season.