Ashes that purify-A A +A
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
TODAY is Ash Wednesday in the Catholic Church calendar, a day when Catholics, including some who don’t even attend Sunday Mass, troop to churches to have their forehead marked with ashes as the priest says “From dust thou art unto dust thou shall return.”
That’s what most people remember but Fr. Mhar Vincent Balili, who has a licentiate in liturgy, says the ritual is not just a reminder of man’s mortality, but also involves acceptance of one’s sins as in the second formula after Vatican II in the imposition of the ashes: ”Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” This reminds us “that we have to own our sins, to accept our culpability … it involves our acceptance and remorse and change of life.”
The ritual, which marks the beginning of the Lenten season, is not meant to be a showing off of one’s Catholicity. Fr. Balili says it should involve prayer (because it is a reminder of one’s relationship with one’s Creator, the Almighty God, thus giving justice to Him), fasting and abstinence (meaning the faithful may eat only one full meal on this day, as well as not eat meat, which Fr. Balili says is giving justice to one’s self) and almsgiving (which is justice towards our neighbors).
These are the important things about Ash Wednesday. He explains that “If you fast and abstain, you are able to save on two meals. The money saved because of not eating should not be saved for your own consumption but rather, it should be given to the poor. Fasting is denial of one’s self at the same time we give part of ourselves to the poor.”
Ashes as a sign of repentance (and sackcloth) are found in the Old Testament and New Testament. In Jonah, 3-6, it says: “When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from the throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.” And Jesus refers to it in the New Testament (Mt. 11:21anLk 10:13) when He said, ”Woe to you, Chorazin! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.” It is no surprise then that the use of ashes as a sign of repentance has been used by the Church in her liturgy.
Imposition of ashes on the forehead in the sign of the Cross dates back to the early days of the Church. It was Pope Urban II who called for the general use of ashes at the beginning of Lent. In the 12th century, the “rule developed that the ashes were to be created by burning palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday.”
Fasting, says Fr. Balili, is a must on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday for all Catholics from age 18 to 60 while abstinence on all Fridays of the year is a must for Catholics from age 14 to 59. So today, when ashes are imposed on our heads, let us remember that beyond this external sign, there is the obligation to pray, fast and abstain.
But there’s a consideration, says Fr. Balili: “Before all else we are obliged to perform the duties of our state in life. Any deprivation that would seriously hinder us in carrying out or work as students, employees or parents would be contrary to the will of God.”
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 13, 2013.