The origins of Ash Wednesday can be traced back to ancient Rome in the 11th Century. There, sinners and penitents dressed in sackcloth and were sprinkled with ashes to start their period of public penance on the first day of Lent.
Traditionally called “the day of Ashes”, Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent. The six-week or 40-day season of Lent culminates with Easter. Easter is the time where Christians remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The preceding Lenten Season is a time of self-reflection, fasting, self-sacrifice, prayer, and almsgiving.
During Lent, many choose to sacrifice or abstain from favoured things such as: coffee, chocolate, alcohol, meat, sweets, television, or technology. Others choose to take up more constant self-giving practices such as helping others more consciously or giving extra money to those in need and so on.
It is a time to remember God’s great love for creation by sending Jesus into the world to heal, restore and to love even in the face of being condemned to death. The Resurrection is the great hope of eternal life for all Christians and meant to be a sign of hope for all people without exclusion.
The ash cross worn on the foreheads of believers on Ash Wednesday is meant to represent our mortality, acknowledgment of our sins and our love for God. The ashes are produced by burning the Palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday, according to tradition, the people of Jerusalem greeted Jesus with great enthusiasm, waving palms in celebration only to see him crucified shortly after. The ashes are applied in the shape of a cross by a priest at mass during the day and sometimes worn all day. Catholics do not eat meat on this day and are meant to fast by consuming only one full meal on that day.
Below are some suggestions of simple things we can do during Lent:
- Let’s take some fun time the night before Ash Wednesday – on Shrove or Pancake Tuesday – where traditionally all of the ‘fatty foods’ and pancakes in the house were eaten before the long fast began!
- On Ash Wednesday (February 22, 2023), let us take time to reflect on our humanity with its weaknesses and frailties, sometimes causing us to love ourselves and others less than that to which we might aspire.
- If we are Christian, let us take this time together to seek humility and to express our love and honour for our God.
- If we do not share this faith, in the same way as we would respect the Muslim tradition and season of Ramadan and other religious traditions, let us express solidarity for our Christian co-workers and those we support. We could perhaps take some reflection time on whatever we hold as a loving source or meaning in our lives.
- How can we be better human beings, love and care more deeply and be people of honour and gratitude, so as to make this world an even better place in which to live?
- In our human weakness, if we find it challenging to love others in different circumstances, let’s pray and ask our Loving God for the ability or seek this from our source of meaning and strength – whatever that is for you.
This Lent let us be inspired to greater love and mercy by the words of our foundress Catherine McAuley:
“Better to feed a hundred impostors than one poor hungry soul be turned away.”
“Let charity then be our badge of honour . . . so that it may truly be said, there is in us but one heart and one soul in God.”
I pray that whatever way we approach this coming season of Lent and Easter, that we will remember the frailty of our humanity and, therefore, be more willing to love and forgive each other each day just as Jesus called us to love one another.
Reflection from Shanelle Bennett, Mercy Community’s General Manager – Mission Integration.