Ash Wednesday: Let Us Enter Into Lent
Catholics will participate in Ash Wednesday Service where they will be told to 'Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel' and be signed on the forehead with ashes.
The call to holiness is an integral part of the Baptismal vocation. Conversion is a process which invites our continued response and cooperation with grace. Our Lenten observance is a part of our response to that call.
GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online) - Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a season that ends at the start of the Mass of the Lord´s Supper in the evening on Holy Thursday. During this penitential season, we are reminded to give of ourselves and unite with the suffering Christ. We meditate on the pain our Lord endured for our sake, on the manner in which "they took Jesus" and made him carry the "cross himself" to a place called Golgatha, where "they crucified him." (cf. Jn 19:17-18).
We too follow our Savior: we go up to the Place of the Skull; we watch as those nails we helped to supply are driven into his hands and feet; we stand at the foot of the Cross, as did Jesus´ Mother (cf. Jn 19:25). We look upon our Lord; we see his pain; we notice the wood soaked in His blood; we cry. We kneel and await that moment when a sword will pierce Christ´s side that his saving blood and water will flow over us.
The word Lent is from the Anglo-Saxon "lencten" (spring). Historically, Lent was a final preparation period for catechumens who were being initiated into the Catholic Church, and who would soon experience full communion with the Church God willed should exist as they were brought into the Paschal mystery at the Easter Vigil.
In time, Lent became a renewal period for the already baptized faithful as they witnessed the fervent conversion of the catechumens. Today, Lent is a forty-day period in which the whole Catholic Church enters into a time of penance, preparation, and spiritual renewal.
During Lent, Catholics prepare for the resurrection of our Master, Teacher, King and Savior which we will celebrate on Easter. Around the world, in parishes large and small, millions of Catholics will participate at Ash Wednesday Mass, where they will listen to the word of God, receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and, after being told to "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel", will be signed on the forehead with ashes in the shape of a cross.
The placing of ashes on the head has as its origin the penitential practices of the Hebrew people who also wore sackcloth as a means of expressing repentance (Jonas 3:5-9; Jer 6:26; 25:34). While at first the ritual of ashes was not directly connected with the beginning of Lent, as early as the fourth century it was adopted into the disciplinary practice of temporarily excluding public sinners from the community who were guilty of grave public sins in order to foster their repentance and return.
By the seventh century the custom of ashes had expanded into an Ash Wednesday liturgical ritual in many churches. Traditions similar to those in today´s parishes were observed throughout the Church by the eleventh century.
Ash Wednesday marks a profound moment of decision and invitation to change for Catholics. "By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert" (CCC No. 540). We are united to Christ as we engage in our spiritual journey of penance, a road we travel not by ourselves but along with Christ as we follow him into the quiet, dry and tranquil desert.
We too travel among the sand and emptiness and through prayer and fasting, we can be drawn more closely to the Way, the Truth, and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6), the One for whom we thirst. It is in the desert that, when the life-giving Rain falls from the heavens, fresh colors blossom forth and flowers of all kinds flourish within the soul.
A temptation that often presents itself is one which labors to convince us that fasting, penance, and self-denial are merely unimportant and antiquated practices of past. We think we are no longer in need of these things, for we are "enlightened". We begin to tell ourselves we are loved "just as we are", and that further repentance, conversion and spiritual growth are unnecessary. These types of ideas, of course, come from the same Tempter which attacked Christ in the desert (cf. Mt. 4).
The call to holiness is an integral part of the Baptismal vocation. Conversion is a process which invites our continued response and cooperation with grace. Our Lenten observance is a part of our response to that call. The penitential practices of this Holy season include fasting, almsgiving and prayer.
Jacques Douillet, in his book titled "What Is A Saint?" writes: "There is no holiness without mastery of the body. There is no holiness if the way of the Cross be avoided. That cross is not there simply once, on the day of baptism; it is always there, a fixture, so that the faithful man or woman, the fidelis, goes on crucifying nature with all its passions and impulses."
Fasting and abstinence were venerable traditions among the Jews, and such practices were familiar to Jesus Christ and his apostles. Jesus was "led by the Spirit into the desert" and "fasted for forty days and forty nights" ...
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