26 February – Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and occurs forty days before Easter (excluding Sundays). It falls on a different date each year, because it is dependent on the date of Easter; it can occur as early as Feb 4 or as late as Mar 10.
Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. The ashes used are gathered after the palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned. In the liturgical practice of some churches, the ashes are mixed with the Oil of the Catechumens, though some churches use ordinary oil. This paste is used by the clergyman who presides at the service to make the sign of the cross, first upon his own forehead and then on each of those present. As he does so, he recites the words: “Remember (O man) that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance and it marks the beginning of Lent. Ashes were used in ancient times, according to the Bible, to express mourning. Dusting oneself with ashes was the penitent’s way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults.
Penitence is an essential part of the Christian life, for none of us can measure up to the tremendous vocation that is ours as Christians. We are in constant need of the mercy and forgiveness of God. Today we express this by taking part in an impressive corporate act of penitence and reconciliation, beseeching God for the grace to use with profit the ‘favourable time’ of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s Passover feast.
the Sunday Missal
‘Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks –
come back to me with all your heart,
fasting, weeping, mourning.’
Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn,
turn to the Lord your God again,
for he is all tenderness and compassion,
slow to anger, rich in graciousness,
and ready to relent.
Who knows if he will not turn again, will not relent,
will not leave a blessing as he passes,
oblation and libation
for the Lord your God?
Sound the trumpet in Zion!
Order a fast,
proclaim a solemn assembly,
call the people together,
summon the community,
assemble the elders,
gather the children,
even the infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his bedroom
and the bride her alcove.
Between vestibule and altar let the priests,
the ministers of the Lord, lament.
Let them say,
‘Spare your people, Lord!
Do not make your heritage a thing of shame,
a byword for the nations.
Why should it be said among the nations,
“Where is their God?”’
Then the Lord, jealous on behalf of his land,
took pity on his people.
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
We are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God. For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God. As his fellow workers, we beg you once again not to neglect the grace of God that you have received. For he says: At the favourable time, I have listened to you; on the day of salvation I came to your help. Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win men’s admiration. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them; I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
‘When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.’
“Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn”
As a parent of two children, I have seen my fair share of sibling disagreements. Invariably, someone would be asked to apologise, and a quick “Sorry” would be uttered. As would happen often, the one doing the ‘apologising’ would not be repentant, and I would find myself asking the child to “say it like you mean it”. Thankfully, true contrition follows and hugs are exchanged.
I find myself observing the same behaviour in the work environment too. Apologies are given to soothe over rough interactions, or for political expediency. Same attitudes and behaviours tend to continue, and the same interactions follow.
In preparing for this reflection, I was wondering why it was important to “say it like you mean it” and the answer that came to me was this — we cannot fix what we cannot name or identify.
Many examples came to me as I prayed and reflected — In confession, we name our sins in order to be absolved; when we see a doctor, illness needs to be diagnosed before treatment; a taxi journey needs to begin with a destination.
Simply put, God cannot work to effect real change in our lives if we are not truly sorry.
It is challenging for the Catholic community at this time that the Singapore Church has suspended all public masses and activities; however, this is also a wonderful opportunity for all of us to quieten and examine our inner lives. We get time to go inside ourselves and truly open our broken hearts to our God.
Have a fruitful Lenten season everyone.
(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)
Prayer: Father God, we pray that we may be unafraid to examine and name our failings and sins and to offer them up to you for healing.
Thanksgiving: We are grateful, Father, that no matter how broken or sinful we are, You continue to love and be there for us.