Ash Wednesday is the best way to begin a season which calls us into self-examination as well as self-denial, into deeper contemplation about the mystery and grace of God's mercy, and towards more radical giving towards those most in need of comfort, sustenance, and hope.
The ancient practice of Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are are mortal. It causes us to pause and look at our lives– remember what we are made of, remember where we are going- and encourages us to fully immerse ourselves in the Lenten season.
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent. The ancient practice of Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are are mortal.
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19.
The line from Genesis reminds us our lives on this earth won’t last forever. We are a finite people who hold hope in something infinite and beyond ourselves. Bearing a mark throughout the day that is visible to others puts an explanation point on the Genesis passage. We become walking witnesses of that place of truth.
Heaping ashes upon the head, rending the garment, and donning sackcloth were all outward signs of penitence in biblical times. Such a display was one of abject humility and repentance, but could also turn into an occasion for infighting and ego-inflation.
The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are obtained from the burning of the palms of a previous Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday marks Jesus' return to Jerusalem, when people waved palm branches to celebrate his arrival. The ashes are blessed by the priest during the Ash Wednesday Mass after the homily. Then the ashes are applied to each person's forehead in the shape of a cross.
The second resource available is a Prayer for Ash Wednesday. With these prayer cards your class or family can contemplate the meaning of Ash Wednesday and the traditional Lenten practices.