Ash Wednesday


Taken from the Saint Andrew Daily Missal

Today’s station at Rome is at Saint Sabina’s on the Aventine, in a sanctuary  built on the former site of the holy martyr’s house. Having been converted by her maid-servant, she was beheaded for the faith and secretly buried. It is to this Church, that in former times, the Pope used to go barefoot “to begin with holy fasts the exercises of Christian warfare, that as we do battle with the spirits of evil, we may be protected by the help of self-denial” [Prayer at the Blessing of the ashes]. In the fifth century it was one of the twenty-five parishes of Rome.

Following the example of the Ninivites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, the Church today, to humble our pride and remind us of the sentence of death, which as a consequence of our sins we are bound to undergo, sprinkles ashes on our heads with the words: “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and into dust shalt thou return”. Here indeed, is a thought that should humble our pride.

In this custom we have the remains of an ancient custom referred to in the Roman Pontifical. Those Christians who were guilty of grave faults had to undergo public penance. Accordingly, on Ash Wednesday, the Bishop used to bless the sackcloth which was to be worn by the penitents during the holy Forty Days, and place upon their heads ashes made from palms used the previous year in the Palm Sunday procession. Then, while the faithful were singing the Seven Penitential Psalms, “the penitents were expelled from the holy place on account of their sins, just as Adam was driven out paradise because of his disobedience”. They were not allowed to put off their penitential garb or to re-enter the Church before Holy Thursday after they had gained their reconciliation by toil and penance, and by sacramental confession and absolution.

At the Council of Beneventum (1091) Pope Urban VI commanded that the ashes should be received by all the faithful indiscriminately. Let us receive them in a spirit of humility and penance, that by this powerful sacramental we may obtain from almighty God the blessings which the Church implores in the act of blessing them. For truly, “God overlooks the sins of men for the sake of repentence” (Introit). He is “rich in mercy” to those who are “converted to Him with all their heart in fasting and in weeping and in mourning” (Epistle). We must not indeed, like the Pharisees, rend our garments as a sign of grief, but rather our hearts, for it is not men who are to testify to our fasting, but our Father who sees our innermost souls and will repay us (Gospel), as our Lord Himself tells us in the Sermon on the Mount. Let us then, draw from the Eucharist the help which we need (Postcommunion), so that celebrating today the institution of this sacred fast (Secret), we may “perform it with a devotion which nothing can disturb” (Collect).

Introit:  Wisdom xi. 24, 25, 27

Collect: Grant, O Lord, to Thy faithful people that they may begin the venerable solemnities of fasting with becoming piety, and may persevere to the end with steadfast devotion. Through Our Lord…

Epistle:  Joel ii. 12-19

Gospel:  Matthew vi. 16-21

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3 Responses to Ash Wednesday

  1. Michael says:

    Found a great quote from Bl. John Henry Newman (via Jeff Walker’s blog) which speaks well of the attitude we should have going into Lent:

    O my God, I confess that before now I have utterly forgotten this, and that I am continually forgetting it! I have acted many a time as if I were my own master, and turned from Thee rebelliously. I have acted according to my own pleasure, not according to Thine. And so far have I hardened myself, as not to feel as I ought how evil this is. I do not understand how dreadful sin is—and I do not hate it, and fear it, as I ought. I have no horror of it, or loathing. I do not turn from it with indignation, as being an insult to Thee, but I trifle with it, and, even if I do not commit great sins, I have no great reluctance to do small ones. O my God, what a great and awful difference is there between what I am and what I ought to be!

    And I also came across this passage from Isaiah 58:9-12 (also via Jeff Walker!) which speaks of what we can be if we persevere in prayer, fasting, penitence and charity:

    “If you take away from the midst of you the yoke,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
    if you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,

    then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
    And the Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your desire with good things,

    and make your bones strong;
    and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters fail not.

    And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
    you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.”

  2. kathleen says:


    That was such a wonderful quote from Bl. Card JH Newman! I am sure that more than one could identify their own situation (forgetfulness and failings) so closely with his. I know I can!

  3. Michael says:

    Kathleen @ 22:16, February 11th:

    I am sure that more than one could identify their own situation (forgetfulness and failings) so closely with his. I know I can!

    I’ll second that! 🙂

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