Ash Wednesday-A A +A
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
NOT counting the first day of the Simbang Gabi, Ash Wednesday is perhaps the day you’ll see churches bursting at the rafters because of the sheer number of people attending Holy Mass.
I don’t know if that’s the case, too, in other countries, but I’m amazed at the humility of Filipino Catholics in publicly acknowledging their sinfulness. Why did I say that? Because that’s what Ash Wednesday is all about: acknowledging our sinfulness, being sincerely contrite, and forming firm resolutions on amendment and reparations.
At the same time, we mourn Christ’s death on the Cross, which our sinfulness brought about in the first place. We all do this conscious of our mortality, aware that anytime we can drop dead and die, and that the matter is not in our hands, but in God’s.
I couldn’t help recalling the closing part of the Way of the Cross: “We, too, God, will descend into the grave whenever it shall please you, as it shall please you, and wherever it shall please you.”
Indeed, nobody knows when his number will be up.
Ash Wednesday ushers in Lent, the 40 days before Easter when Catholics do lots of self-examination, prayer and fasting. Catholics feel there can be no better way to prepare for Easter, the most important of Catholic holy days (far more important than Christmas) when the entire Catholic world rejoices at Christ’s Resurrection.
Far from being “one of those silly, man-made Catholic inventions” that non Catholics like to call everything Catholic, Ash Wednesday has quite a number of parallels in Scripture: Est 4:1, Is 61:3; see also Est 4:3, Jer 6:26, Ez 27:30, Dn 9:3, Mt 11:21, Lk 10:13.
Even the fast prescribed for Catholics, which non-Catholics snicker at for being too much “works,” “buying one’s salvation with” has strong Bible parallels. Christ urged his disciples to fast (Mt 9:14-15); Jesus Christ even specified how it should be done (Mt 6:16-18).
Why, even the number of days, i.e., 40, was not arbitrarily chosen. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights, ushering in the Flood (Gen 7:4). Moses stayed on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights (Ex 24:18). Nineveh was given 40 days to repent (Jon 3:4). Forty is the number of days Christ spent without food in the wilderness before starting his public ministry (Mt 4:1-11).
"Remember, man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return," the priest imposing the ashes would say to the penitent as the priest makes the sign of the Cross on the penitent’s forehead.
In ancient times, penitents would strew ashes upon their heads and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. These days, the practice has become more subdued, but the essence has not changed a bit.
We are sinners who need to repent of our sins. Only then could we make ourselves right before God, it is hoped, before death makes it impossible for us to do so.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 13, 2013.