February 14, 2018: ASH WEDNESDAY
February 14, 2018: ASH WEDNESDAY
[Fasting & Complete Abstinence to be observed this day]
“Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
(St. Matth, iv. 17)
ye shall do penance, ye shall all perish.”
(St. Luke, xiii. 3)
Let us change our dress for ashes and sackcloth; let us fast and weep in the presence of the Lord; for our God is very merciful to forgive our sins.
Image of a French Holy card published by R. Pannier, Paris, in the late 19th century.
Make a Choice: Eternal Heaven or Eternal Hell
In French, top of the card: “Eternity. You, mortal, who has an immortal soul, study, meditate, ponder over this great word: ETERNITY.” Frame: “Do the good while there is time. Ponder over Death to live well and to die well. Think about death, give up sin, stay out of the world, give yourself up to God. Death is certain, only its hour is uncertain.” Inside the frame: “Prepare for a good death through a good life, for time is short. Today is my turn, tomorrow yours. I have been, you shall be what I am. Pray for the souls in Purgatory. They expect your prayers and the relief of their plight. Make a choice. Eternal Heaven. Eternal Hell.”
Grant, O Lord, that thy faithful may enter on this solemn fast with suitable piety, and go thro’ it with unmolested devotion. Thro’ Christ our Lord. Amen.
Click here, to view the Laws of Fasting and Abstinence.
Yesterday, the World was busy in its pleasures, and the very Children of God were taking a joyous farewell to mirth: but this morning, all is changed. The solemn announcement, spoken of by the Prophet, has been proclaimed in Sion (Joel, ii. 12-19):—the solemn Fast of Lent, the Season of expiation, the approach of the great Anniversaries of our Redemption. Let us, then, rouse ourselves, and prepare for the spiritual combat.
But, in this battling of the spirit against the flesh, we need good armour. Our holy Mother the Church knows how much we need it; and therefore does she summon us to enter into the House of God, that she may arm us for the holy contest. What this armour is we know from St. Paul, who thus describes it: Have your loins girt about with Truth, and having on the Breast-plate of Justice. And your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. In all things, taking the Shield of Faith. Take unto you the Helmet of Salvation, and the Sword of the spirit, which is the word of God (Eph, vi. 14-17). The very Prince of the Apostles, too, addresses these solemn words to us: Christ having suffered in the flesh, be ye also armed with the same thought (I St. Peter, iv. 1). We are entering, today, upon a long campaign of the warfare spoken of by the Apostles:—forty days of battle,—forty days of penance. We shall not turn cowards, if our souls can but be impressed with the conviction, that the battle and the penance must be gone through. Let us listen to the eloquence of the solemn Rite which opens our Lent. Let us go whither our Mother leads us,—that is, to the scene of The Fall.
The enemies we have to fight with, are of two kinds:—internal, and external:—the first are our Passions; the second are the Devils. Both were brought on us by Pride, and man's Pride began when he refused to obey his God. God forgave him his sin, but he punished him. The punishment was Death, and this was the form of the Divine Sentence: Thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return (Gen, iii. 19). O that we had remembered this! The recollection of what we are and what we are to be, would have checked that haughty rebellion, which has so often led us to break the law of God. And if, for the time to come, we would persevere in loyalty to him,—we must humble ourselves, accept the Sentence, and look on this present life as a path to the grave. The path may be long, or short:—but to the Tomb it must lead us. Remembering this, we shall see all things in their true light. We shall love that God, who has deigned to set his heart on us, notwithstanding our being creatures of death: we shall hate, with deepest contrition, the insolence and ingratitude, wherewith we have spent so many of our few days of life, that is, in sinning against our Heavenly Father: and we shall be not only willing, but eager, to go through these days of penance, which he so mercifully gives us for making reparation to his offended Justice.
[…] When, upwards of a thousand years ago, she decreed the anticipation of the Lenten Fast by the last four days of Quinquagesima Week,—she instituted this impressive ceremony of signing the forehead of her Children with Ashes, whilst saying to them those awful words, wherewith God sentenced us to death: Remember, O Man, that thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return! But the making use of Ashes as a symbol of humiliation and penance, is of a much earlier date than the institution we allude to. We find frequent mention of it in the Old Testament. Job, though a Gentile, sprinkled his flesh with Ashes, that, thus humbled, he might propitiate the divine mercy (Job, xvi. 16): and this was two thousand years before the coming of our Saviour. The Royal Prophet tells us of himself, that he mingled Ashes with his bread, because of the divine anger and indignation (Ps, ci. 10). Many such examples are to be met with in the Sacred Scriptures; but so obvious is the analogy between the sinner, who thus signifies his grief, and the object, whereby he signifies it, that we read such instances without the attention of surprise. When fallen man would humble himself before the Divine Justice, which has sentenced his body to turn again into Dust,—how could he more aptly express his contrite acceptance of the sentence, than by sprinkling himself, or his food, with Ashes, which is the dust of wood consumed by fire? This earnest acknowledgment of his being himself but Dust and Ashes, is an act of humility, and humility ever gives him confidence in that God, who resists the proud and pardons the humble.
It is probable, that, when this ceremony of the Wednesday in Quinquagesima Week was first instituted, it was not intended for all the Faithful, but only for such as had committed any of those crimes, for which the Church, inflicted a public penance; and these alone received the Ashes. Before the Mass of the day began, they presented themselves at the Church, where the people were all assembled. The Priests received the confession of their sins, and then clothed them in sackcloth, and sprinkled Ashes on their heads. After this ceremony, the Clergy and the Faithful prostrated, and recited aloud the Seven Penitential Psalms. A Procession, in which the Penitents walked bare-footed, then followed; and on its return, the Bishop addressed these words to the Penitents: “Behold, we drive you from the doors of the Church, by reason of your sins and crimes, as Adam, the first man, was driven out of Paradise, because of his transgression.” The Clergy then sang several Responsories, taken from the Book of Genesis, and in which mention was made of the sentence pronounced by God when he condemned man to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, for that the earth was cursed on account of sin. The doors were then shut, and the Penitents were not to pass the threshold until Maundy Thursday, when they were to come and receive Absolution.
Dating from the 11th Century, the discipline of Public Penance began to fall into disuse, and the holy rite of putting Ashes on the heads of all the Faithful indiscriminately, became so general, that, at length, it was considered as forming an essential part of the Roman Liturgy. Formerly, it was the practice to approach bare-footed to receive this solemn Memento of our nothingness; and we find, that even so early as the 12th century, the Pope himself, when passing from the Church of Saint Anastasia to that of Saint Sabina, at which the Station was held, went the whole distance bare-footed, as also did the Cardinals, who accompanied him. The Church no longer requires this exterior penance; but she is as anxious as ever, that the holy ceremony… should produce in us the sentiments she intended to convey by it, when she first instituted it.
Click here, to read a meditation on death.
Click here, for meditation during the holy Season of Lent, from St. Thomas Aquinas.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Septuagesima, Edition 1870; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
Remember not, O Lord, our past offenses; let thy mercy soon overtake us, for we are reduced to the greatest misery.