Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Ash Wednesday is this week, marking the beginning of Lent. It is one of the most popular days of the year for people to come to church. Even a few non-Catholics come each year to our church requesting ashes. The history of this practice goes back a long time. During Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, people who had committed grave and public sins were known as “Penitents.” They were given long penances of surviving on bread and water, extra prayers, works of mercy, and some of them went on pilgrimages. Depending on the length of the penance, there were some penitents who would be ready to absolved and reconciled on Holy Thursday each year.
Those penitents ready to be reconciled on Holy Thursday gathered on the Wednesday before the first Sunday of Lent. Wednesday (along with Friday) was already a day of fasting for everyone throughout the year, so it was appropriate to gather the penitents on that day. Borrowing a sacred sign from the scriptures, the bishop sprinkled ashes on the heads of the penitents, which they wore (without washing) until Holy Thursday as a sign of their sorrow.
This sacred sign was so attractive that even those who were not in a state of serious sin began to ask for ashes on the Wednesday before Lent. By the 11th century the Pope recommended to all the bishops that ashes be distributed to anyone who sought them on that day, which became, of course, Ash Wednesday.
May God bless you and grant us all deeper conversion of heart during our Lenten journey.
God bless, Fr. Carlos, OSA