Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ash Wedensday (1)

Ash Wednesday
(the 1st day of Lent)

In the Western tradition Ash Wednesday is the seventh Wednesday before Easter Sunday and the first day of Lent. Lent is the period of forty days before Palm Sunday. Sundays are not figured into the caculation.

In those churches which follow the Byzantine tradition (e.g. Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics), the forty days of Lent are calculated differently: the fast begins on Clean Monday, Sundays are included in the count, and it ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday. (more on that at a later date)

Ash Wednesday gets it's name "dies cinerum" (day of ashes) from the ancient practice of followers placing ashes on their foreheads as a sign of humility before God. The ashes being a symbol of sorrow, mourning and repentence for sin. Not only does this action prefigure the death and ressurection of Christ but places the worshipper

Generally the forehead is marked with the sign of the cross while the words "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel" or "Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you shall return"(Gen 3:19) are said. Traditionally the ashes would come from palm branches that had been gathered and burned after their use during the previous year's Palm Sunday celibration.

In the early church it began as an individual practice. Eventualy only those wishing to make public confession of sin seeking restoration into fellowhip for the Easter celibration would make the mark. Over the years others began showing their identification with the penents and asked for the ashes. Finally the marking was extended to the whole community in services similar to those now observed in many churches on ash Wednesday.Ashes became symbolic of the attitude of penitence reflected in the Lord's Prayer " forgive us our sins as we forgive those whoin debted to us" Luke 11:4

The only two official days of fasting in theWestern Christian litugical year are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The follower is asked to for go legitimate material satisfaction in order to open heart and spirit to the word and presence of God. Fasting can be accompanied by gestures of solidarity toward the suffering, in this way it can become an act of sharing with the needy and the marginalized. (more on fasting at a later date)

The use of ashes is found in the scripture and is tied to repentance.
* Job repented using ashes (Job 42:6)
* Daniel prayed with fasting and ashes (Dn 9:3)
* When Jonah preached God's coming judgment against Nineveh, the pagan king of Nineveh and his subjects repented with a fast, the king put on sackcloth and sat in ashes. (Jonah 3:5-10).
* When King Ahasuerus ordered all Jews to be killed, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. So did the Jews throughout the land (Esther 4:1-3)
* Jeremiah and Ezekiel mentioned mourning with ashes (Jer 6:26, Ez 27:30)
* Jesus mentioned ashes as a sign of repentance in the case of Tyre and Sidon (Mt 11:21)

more on Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday question & answer page
link to Ash Wednesady organization

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