Concerning Questions On Ash Wednesday.

Concerning Questions On Ash Wednesday.

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Ash Wednesday 2019 may have come and gone, but there are still some unanswered questions from non Catholics or even some Catholics regarding this yearly ritual. Here are some often asked questions regarding Ash Wednesday. Hope this answers some, if not all your questions. 

*Concerning questions on ASH WEDNESDAY*

Q: What is Ash Wednesday?

A: Ash Wednesday is the day Lent begins. It occurs forty days before Good Friday.

Q: Is Ash Wednesday based on a pagan festival?

A: Heck, no. Ash Wednesday originated in the A.D. 900s, long after Europe had been Christianized and the pagan cults stamped out.

Q: Why is it called Ash Wednesday?


A
: Actually, Ash Wednesday is its colloquial name. Its official name is the Day of Ashes. It is called Ash <Wednesday> because, being forty days before Good Friday, it always falls on a Wednesday and it is called <Ash> Wednesday because on that day at church the faithful have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross.

Q: Why do they have their foreheads marked with a cross?

A: Because in the Bible, a mark on the forehead is a symbol of a person’s ownership. By having their foreheads marked with the sign of a cross, this symbolizes that the person belongs to Jesus Christ, who died on a Cross.

Q: Why is the signing done with ashes?

A: Because ashes are a biblical symbol of mourning and penance. In Bible times, the custom was to fast, wear sackcloth, sit in dust and ashes, and put dust and ashes on one’s head. While we no longer normally wear sackcloth or sit in dust and ashes, the customs of fasting and putting ashes on one’s forehead as a sign of mourning and penance have survived to this day. These are two of the key distinctives of Lent. In fact, Ash Wednesday is a day not only for putting ashes on one’s head, but also a day of fasting (see below).

Q: What are some biblical examples of people putting dust and ashes on their foreheads?

A: Consider the following verses from the New International Version:

“That same day, a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh, his clothes torn and dust on his head.” (1 Samuel 4:12).

On the third day, a man arrived from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and with dust on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground to pay him honor.” (2 Samuel 1:20).

“Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.” (2 Samuel 13:19).

When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Archite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head.” (2 Samuel 15:32).

Q: Is there another significance to the ashes?

A: Yes. They also symbolize death and so remind us of our mortality. Thus when the priest uses his thumb to sign one of the faithful with the ashes, he says, “Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return”, which is modeled after God’s address to Adam (Genesis 3:19; cf. Job 34:15, Psalms 90:3, 104:29, Ecclesiastes 3:20). This also echoes the words at a burial, “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust,” which is based on God’s words to Adam in Genesis 3 and Abraham’s confession, “I am nothing but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). It is thus a reminder of our mortality and our need to repent before this life is over and we face our Judge.

Q: Where do the ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from?

A: They are made by burning palm fronds which have been saved from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, they are then blessed by a priest—blessed ashes having been used in God’s rituals since the time of Moses (Numbers 19:9-10, 17).

Q: Why are ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday used?

A: Because Palm Sunday was when the people rejoiced at Jesus’ triumphal entrance to Jerusalem. They celebrated his arrival by waving palm fronds, little realizing that he was coming to die for their sins. By using palms from Palm Sunday, it is a reminder that we must not only rejoice of Jesus’ coming but also regret the fact that our sins made it necessary for him to die for us in order to save us from hell.

Q: Is having one’s forehead signed with ashes required of the faithful?

A: No, it is not required. However, it is to be strongly encouraged, as it is a fitting and visible spiritual reminder that encourages one to adopt an attitude of prayer, repentance, and humility. As James said: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”. (James 4:10).

Q: Is Ash Wednesday a holy day of obligation, that is, a day on which we are required to go to Mass?

A: No, it is not a holy day of obligation. However, it is strongly advisable since it is fitting to mark the beginning of penitential season of Lent by going to Mass. The formal, corporate worship of God is a good way to get a good start to the season. Also, even though it is not a holy day of obligation, it is a day of fast and abstinence.

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