In spite of my difficulty with driving at night I made it to Church in time for the 7:30 pm Ash Wednesday Mass (on March 2nd this year).
Participating in Church activities, especially major activities like Ash Wednesday, comes with an outpouring of grace from above. The joy and fulfillment you feel in practicing your faith is that grace. You can’t afford to neglect the practices of our Christian faith and miss the abundance of God’s beautiful graces.
But what is Ash Wednesday? And why do we Christians celebrate Lent?
What is Ash Wednesday?
Growingn up, I have this grasp of what Ash Wednesday was all about.
Ash Wednesday serves to remind us of our beginnings, and of what we are.
that we came from dust (and to dust we will return).
“Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living person.”
(Genesis 2:7, NASB 1995)
That brings our minds back to our origin as human beings. God created us from the dust of the earth.
But because our first parents sinned, they disobeyed God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, death came to existence, and with death man will become dust again.
“The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”Genesis 2:16-17
Aside from death as the consequence of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God had in the beginning warned our first parents about, He further pronounced another consequence when it was learned that our first parents, Adam and Eve, did indeed succumbed to temptation and ate the said forbidden fruit. Man will return to dust.
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
(Genesis 3:19, KJV)
And so we Christians celebrate Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of the 40 day period of fasting and repentance for our sins.
What Happens During Ash Wednesday?
On Ash Wednesday we go to our local parishes to have ashes put on our foreheads in the form of a cross. The priests administering these ashes usually say the words, “ . . . you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The same words God pronounced to Adam and Eve when they succumbed to temptation and ate the forbidden tree.
We also start fasting from meat on Ash Wednesday, and every Friday after Ash Wednesday.
It is also on Ash Wednesday that we start thinking what to give up for lent.
What is Lent?
Lent is a yearly Christian activity commemorating the 40 days fasting and prayer that Jesus spent in the desert before he started his public ministry.
During this time we unite ourselves to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.
Lent also prepares us in commemorating Christ’s passion on the cross. While it starts on Ash Wednesday, it ends at sundown on Holy Thursday as we enter the holiest days of the season, the days leading to Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
During the 40 days (Sundays are not counted) Lenten season Christians are expected to spend time with the Lord by praying through scripture reading, do sacrificial acts of self denial through fasting and abstinence, and to serve and share to others through almsgiving.
All Sundays during Lent are not included in counting the 40-day penitential period. The reason for this is that Sunday is always a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. Hence, you are free to skip your penitence and fasting during the six Sundays of the Lenten season.
Other key Christian events during and after Lent include Palm Sunday, the Holy Week that begins on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.
As referenced above, Palm Sunday signals the beginning of the Holy Week.
This is the last Sunday of Lent.
On this day we commemorate the entry of Jesus to Jerusalem before he was arrested and crucified.
Some of the key events of this day was Jesus’s giving instructions to two of his disciples to find a donkey tied with her colt and to bring them to him.
“Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”(Matthew 21:2-7)
Upon entering Jerusalem on a donkey, a multitude of people came to meet him. Some spread their coats on the ground for him to pass on. Others took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him shouting: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
On Palm Sunday this year, which is on April 10, we Christians will celebrate this impactful event in Christian history with palm leaves on hand.
These palm leaves will be blessed by the priest. The remaining of these palm leaves will get burned and will be used in next year’s Ash Wednesday.
The key events of the Holy Week are Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
We will celebrate Holy Thursday at Church on April 14 with the enactment of the events that occurred on the last Thursday on earth that Jesus was with his disciples before he was put to death by crucifixion.
We will remember the day that Jesus and his 12 disciples spent Last Supper together at the Upper Room, and washed the feet of his disciples.
This was the day of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist out of which came the celebration of the Mass by us, Catholics, per Jesus command to do it in remembrance of him.
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”Luke 22:19