ASH WEDNESDAY (Feb 2) 1-page Summary for an 8-minute homily
Introduction: Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum), is the Church’s Yom Kippur or the “Day of Atonement.” Its very name comes from the Jewish practice of doing penance wearing “sackcloth and ashes.” The Old Testament tells us how the people of Nineveh, King Ben Hadad of Syria, and Queen Esther fasted, wearing sackcloth and ashes. In the early Church, Christians who had committed serious sins were instructed to do public penance wearing sackcloth and ashes. The Church instructs us to observe Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as days of full fast and abstinence. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during the Lenten season. The prophet Joel, in the first reading, insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart and not simply regret for our sins. Saint Paul, in the second reading, advises us “to become reconciled to God.” Today’s Gospel instructs us to assimilate the true spirit of fasting and prayer.
The blessing of the ashes and the significance of the day: The priest dipping his thumb into ashes (collected from burnt palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday), marks the forehead of each with the sign of the cross , saying the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” By marking the sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of her children, the Church gives us: 1- a firm conviction that a) we are mortal beings, b) our bodies will become dust when buried and ashes if cremated, and c) our life-span is very brief and unpredictable; 2- a strong warning that we will be eternally punished if we do not repent of our sins, become reconciled with God, asking His pardon and forgiveness, and do penance; and 3- a loving invitation to realize and acknowledge our sinful condition and return to our loving and forgiving God with true repentance and a renewal of our life as the prodigal son did.
Ash Wednesday messages: # 1: We need to purify and renew our lives during the period of Lent by repentance, which means expressing sorrow for sins by turning away from occasions of sins and making a right turn to God. We need to express our repentance by becoming reconciled with God daily, by asking for forgiveness from those whom we have offended and by giving unconditional forgiveness to those who have offended us.
# 2: We need to do prayerful fasting and little acts of penance for our sins, following the example of Jesus before his public ministry. Fasting reduces our “spiritual obesity” or the excessive accumulation of “fat” in our soul in the form of evil tendencies, evil habits and evil addictions. It also gives us additional moral and spiritual strength and encourages us to share our blessings with the needy. L/20
ASH WEDNESDAY (Feb 26) Jl 2:12-18; II Cor 5:20—6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 (Full text)
Introduction: Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum) is the Church’s Yom Kippur or the “Day of Atonement.” Its very name comes from the Jewish practice of doing penance wearing “sackcloth and ashes.” In the early Church, Christians who had committed serious sins were instructed to do public penance wearing sackcloth and ashes. This custom was introduced by Pope Gregory I (served September 3, 590 to March 12, 604; McBrien, Lives of the Popes, p. 96), and it was enacted as a universal practice in all of Western Christendom by the Synod of Benevento in 1091 A.D. Since the 11th century, receiving ashes on the first day of Lent has been a universal Christian practice. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of full fast and abstinence. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during the Lenten season. The prophet Joel, in the first reading, insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart and not simply regret for our sins. Saint Paul, in the second reading, advises us “to become reconciled to God.” Today’s Gospel instructs us to assimilate the true spirit of fasting and prayer.
The blessing of the ashes and the significance of the day: The priest dipping his thumb into ashes (collected from burnt palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday), marks the forehead of each with the sign of the cross , saying the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” By marking the sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of her children, the Church gives us:
1- a firm conviction that a) we are mortal beings, b) our bodies will become dust when buried and ashes if cremated, and c) our lifespan is very brief and unpredictable;
2- a strong warning that we will be eternally punished if we do not repent of our sins and do penance; and
3- a loving invitation to realize and acknowledge our sinful condition and return to our loving and forgiving God with true repentance as the prodigal son did.
Ash Wednesday message: We are invited to effect a real conversion and renewal of life during the period of Lent by fasting, prayer, almsgiving, penance, and reconciliation. In fasting we sacrifice our love of “Self” so that we can become free to love God and others. In prayer we sacrifice our love of “time” to make time for the love of God. In almsgiving we sacrifice our love of “stuff” to make room for the love of others.
I- We are to do prayerful fasting: a) by following the example of Jesus before his public ministry, and b) by imitating the king and the people of Nineveh (Jon 3:7), who fasted in sackcloth pleading for mercy from the Lord God; of the Syrian King, Ben Hadad (I Kgs 20:31-34), who did not fast, but wore sackcloth and begged Israel’s King Ahab for his life); of Queen Esther who fasted “in garments of distress and mourning” and “covered her head with ashes and dung”, begging God to save her people (Est 4:16); of the soldiers of Judas Maccabaeus who fasted so greatly they felt too weak to fight (1 Mc 3:17); and of St. Paul who observed “frequent fastings” (2 Cor 11:27).
(Historical note: In the past, the Greek Orthodox Christians had 180 days of fasting and the Orthodox as well as Catholic Syrian Christians had 225 to 290 days of fasting every year. The Roman church also had a number of fast days. Technically speaking, fasting is now only required on two days in Lent, namely, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In the United States, in addition, abstinence alone is commanded on all Fridays of Lent).
Fasting: True fasting is “tearing one’s heart and returning to God” with true repentance for one’s sins (Jl 2:13). It is “breaking unjust fetters, freeing the oppressed, sharing one’s bread with the hungry, clothing with the naked and home with the homeless, and not turning away from the needy relatives” (Is 58:6-7).
Advantages of fasting: a – It reduces the excessive accumulation of “fat” in our soul in the form of evil tendencies and evil habits (=spiritual obesity).
b – It gives us additional moral and spiritual strength.
c – It offers us more time to be with God in prayer.
d – It encourages us to share our food and goods with the needy.
e – “There is joy in the salutary fasting and abstinence of Christians who eat and drink less in order that their minds may be clearer and more receptive to receive the sacred nourishment of God’s word, which the whole Church announces and meditates upon in each day’s liturgy throughout Lent” (Thomas Merton).
II – We are to lead a life of penance because:
1 – It is the model given by Jesus.
2 – It was his teaching: “If anyone wishes to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” and “Try to enter through the narrow gate.”
3 – Theological reasons: a) it removes the weakness left by sin in our souls, b) it pays the temporal debt caused by sin, and c) it makes our prayers more fruitful.
III – We are to enlarge our hearts for reconciliation.
By receiving the ashes, we confess that we are sinners in need of the mercy of God, and we ask forgiveness for the various ways in which we have hurt our brothers and sisters. In the recent past, our Catholic community has experienced acute suffering caused by the scandalous behavior of a few of our spiritual leaders. Lent is a time for forgiveness and reconciliation. Let us allow the spirit of forgiveness to work its healing influence in our parishes and families. God bless you.
Ash Wednesday agenda: By Almsgiving, we highlight others as being more important than ourselves and give ourselves to them as Jesus gave Himself to others. By Prayer, we highlight God as being most important in our life, magnifying Him, humbling ourselves (thus realizing the distance between Him and us), and trying to come to come closer to the Lord. By Fasting, we discover our personal self and see who we really are. Cutting, pruning and disciplining ourselves will be part of this job. Doing all these three things with joyful heart and mind will prepare us to rise with Jesus. (Fr. Raj).
Anecdotes: 1) The Potato Salad Promise: Tony Campolo tells about a Church that one day every year celebrates student recognition day. One year, after several students had spoken quite eloquently, the pastor started his sermon in a striking way: “Young people, you may not think you’re going to die, but you are. One of these days, they’ll take you to the cemetery, drop you in a hole, throw some dirt on your face and go back to the Church and eat potato salad.” We may not like to acknowledge it, but someday, every one of us will have to face the “potato salad promise”, that we will all die. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…..”
2) Kill the Cyclops in you: The Cyclops is that strange monster of Greek mythology with one big eye in the middle of its forehead. We pretend to ignore the truth that, for 325 days of each year, we are all Cyclopes because there is ONE GREAT BIG “I” right in the middle of our heads! If we are skeptical about this assertion, we might watch our words for one day, from morning to night. What’s the first thing we think about each morning? “What am I going to do today? How will I do it? What will happen to me today? How will I feel today?” I, I, I. And all day long, what do we say to people? We say things like, “I think this” and “I think that” and “I agree” and “I disagree” and “I like this” and “I don’t like that” and “I just want to say…” I, I, I. And what’s the last thing that we think about at night? “I wish that so-and-so would stop doing thus-and-such to me” and “I really did a good job today” and “I wonder what I’ll do tomorrow.” The problem with seeing with one eye is that we’re half blind. Everything looks flat and two-dimensional because with only one eye, we have no depth-perception. Consequently, we go wrong in assessing people. In Greek mythology, the Cyclops was killed when Odysseus and four of his men took a spare staff of the Cyclops, hardened its tip in the fire and used that to destroy the monster’s one big eye. It is precisely this that we must do on Ash Wednesday. With two strokes of his thumb smeared with ash on our forehead, the priest will cross that “I” out of our head. By this sacramental ritual we are asked to take that “I” at the front of our mind and cross it out by “self-denial” and “self- mortification.” Doing so will help us to see the beautiful creatures of God all around us and replace “I” with “You.” (Condensed from Fr. J. K. Horn).
3) “Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” Some of the senior citizens here today can remember a song that was popular exactly 49 years ago this year. In 1971, a group from Canada called the Five Man Electrical Band had a hit called “Signs.” The song is about how signs are always telling us what to do, and the chorus says, “Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” Nearly five decades later, the question it poses – “Can’t you read the sign?” — is one we might ask ourselves today. We are going to be signed with ash in the sign of our Faith, the cross. “Can’t you read the sign?” The cross of ashes means that we are making a commitment – that we are undertaking Lent as a season of prayer and penitence, of dying to ourselves. It also describes our human condition: it says that we are broken and need repair; that we are sinners and need redemption. Most importantly, it tells us that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to carry our crosses. It also reminds us that we are dust and ashes – mortal human beings carrying an immortal soul. (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/)
4) A living children’s sermon: The Rev. Timothy J. Kennedy tells a wonderful true story that is perfect for Ash Wednesday. It was told to him by a colleague, Pastor Chris Mietlowski. It concerned a Baptism that Mietlowski once performed on an infant named Eric. During the Baptism, Mietlowski traced the cross of Christ on Eric’s forehead using the oil of catechumens. Following ceremony, Eric’s family celebrated the occasion with a big backyard party. Family and friends ate burgers and chips and played volleyball under a summer sun. Eric, being only six months old, was left to nap in his backyard stroller. When Mom got him up, whoops. Basted on Eric’s forehead was the image of the cross. Mom had forgotten to wash Eric’s forehead following his Baptism, and the oil that the pastor had traced onto his forehead acted the opposite of a sunscreen. The Cross of Christ was imprinted on Eric’s forehead as a sunburn. Eric’s Mom and Dad had to explain the cross to the pediatrician, to the neighbors, to the stranger in the grocery store. For a few weeks, Eric was nothing less than a [living] children’s sermon. It was only a bit of a sunburn to be sure, but [it was] the best basting a child can have to be marked with the cross.
5) Lent then and now: So, we begin another season of Lent. Those of you who are as old as I am will remember Lent as a more severe season than it seems to be today. The fasting required was more challenging; adults had to fast every day of Lent, and fasting included two meatless meals out of the three, with, of course, nothing between meals. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday demanded full abstinence from meat as well as fasting. So, Abstinence from meat was an everyday Lenten thing, not just an Ash Wednesday/all Lenten Fridays practice. We ate a lot of macaroni and cheese in those days! We made personal sacrifices, giving up smoking, candy, alcohol or something else that we really liked. And generally, we practiced self-denial on Sunday, not just on weekdays. We went to Church a lot more, whether to daily Mass or Stations of the Cross or for prayer. Many feel that Lent today is much easier. Encouragement is given to do positive things during Lent, so many don’t give up much anymore. Most people don’t find their life during Lent much different from their life in any other season. Following the Second Vatican Council, the Church decided to take a risk and to risk treating us like adults. While they removed many of the previous rules, they challenged us to observe the season of Lent with all seriousness, to take responsibility for our own spiritual growth. That is a lot harder than just following rules, but it also bears the potential of really making Lent a time to change our lives and truly become more Christlike. (Fr. Lawrence Mick).
6) The ash-cross sign versus swoosh sign: In 1971, an art student at Portland State University named Carolyn Davidson got a job doing some freelance design work for a local sporting goods company. They were looking for a company logo, an emblem. Carolyn Davidson came up with something in just a few hours. Everyone liked what she did and thanked her. For a day’s work, she was paid $35. Little did anyone realize what Carolyn Davidson had created. That design went on to generate billions—and made history. What she came up with is the now-famous Nike swoosh. It may be the most successful, most recognizable, most visible corporate symbol in the world. Anyone in any language knows exactly what it represents. And millions around the world know the phrase that goes with it: “Just do it.” Graphic designers will tell you it’s a symbol without equal in the world. But this morning, to begin the season of Lent, we will bear an emblem even greater, more visible, more powerful: the cross, made of ashes. We will wear it on our foreheads and carry it into the world as a sign of repentance, and sacrifice, and a quiet but purposeful desire to change. And our message—to ourselves and to those around us—is the same as the one from Nike: “Just do it!” (Deacon Greg Kandra)
FASTING AND ABSTINENCE FOR LENT
1. Everyone 14 years of age or older is bound to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays in Lent including GOOD FRIDAY.
2. Everyone 18 years of age and under 60 years of age is bound to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
3. On these two days of fast and abstinence only one full, meatless meal is allowed. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to each one’s needs, but together they should not equal one full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted on these two days, but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, are allowed. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige.
4. To disregard completely the law of fast and abstinence is a serious matter.
5. Going to Mass every Sunday, doing acts of charity, forgiveness, and good deeds of virtue are obligations of daily life of Catholics especially during Lent.
Videos of the week:
Episcopalian virtual video on Ash Wednesday: https://youtu.be/WIEf9G2Wmho
Fr. Barron’s Ash Wednesday reflections: https://youtu.be/hPTcMWpHfKk
https://youtu.be/KO-EpdMUqa0 by Karlo Broussard
History of Lent: https://youtu.be/W7dRA13BnPM
GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, “In everything give thanks.” Constructive criticism is OK, but “moaning, groaning, and complaining” are not Christian disciplines.
GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible study and personal devotion.
GIVE UP looking at other people’s worst points. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.
GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting. Why not check that sharp tongue at the door?
GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about: like tomorrow! Live today and let God’s grace be sufficient.
GIVE UP TV one evening a week! Instead, visit some lonely or sick person. There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in front of the “tube?” Give someone a precious gift: your time!
GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to God. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet basic needs. We are called to be stewards of God’s riches, not consumers.
GIVE UP judging by appearances and by the standard of the world! Instead, learn to give up yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to judge, Jesus Christ. (Craig Gates, Jackson, MS, “What to Give up for Lent”)
Joke of the week
“You are a dummy: The Church was packed with the faithful eager to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. Pat, Father Kelly’s janitor, offered to help. “OK,” said Father, “now these are the words you say: ‘Remember, man, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” Pat prepared to start at the opposite end of the communion rail. (This was in the old days, as you can realize.) But Pat came hurrying over to Father: “Father, what are those words again?” Father told him, Pat went back to his station, but in a moment, he was back, asking for the words, which Father repeated. When Pat came back the third time Father exploded: “You are a dummy and you’ll always be a dummy.” Pat didn’t come back but when the padre and the janitor came close to each other at the middle the priest was dumbfounded to hear the words Pat was saying: “You are a dummy and you’ll always be a dummy” Msgr. Arthur Tonne – Jokes Priest Can Tell
Human beings with no God experience: In an ancient temple, a number of pigeons lived happily on roof top. When the renovation of the temple began for the annual temple feast the pigeons relocated themselves to a Church nearby. The existing pigeons in the Church accommodated the newcomers very well. Christmas was nearing and the Church was given a facelift. All the pigeons had to move out and look for another place. They were fortunate to find a place in a Mosque nearby. The pigeons in the Mosque welcomed them happily. It was Ramadan time and the Mosque was repainted. All the pigeons now came to the same ancient temple. One day the pigeons on top found some communal clashes below in a market square. The baby pigeon asked the mother pigeon “Who are these people? The mother replied, they are “Human beings”. The baby asked,
“But why are they fighting with each other…?” The mother said, “These human beings going to temple are called ‘Hindus’ and the people going to Church are called ‘Christians’ and the people going to Mosque are called ‘Muslims’.
The Baby pigeon asked, “Why is it so? When we were in the temple, we were called Pigeons, when we were in the Church, we were called Pigeons and when we were in the Mosque, we were called Pigeons. Shouldn’t they all be called just ‘Human beings’ wherever they go”? The mother Pigeon said,
“You and I and our Pigeon friends have experienced God, and that’s why we are living here in a highly elevated place peacefully. These people have yet to experience God. Hence, they are living below us and fighting and killing each other.” L/20
“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle A (No. 19) by Fr. Tony: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit my website by clicking on http://frtonyshomilies.com/ for missed or previous Cycle A homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 197 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at email@example.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily and the CBCI website https://cbci.in/SundayReflectionsNew.aspx?&id=cG2JDo4P6qU=&type=text. for a full version Or https://www.catholicsermons.com/homilies/sunday_homilies under Fr. Tony or under CBCI for my website version. Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604
9 things to know and share about Ash Wednesday- (Jimmy Akins) (http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/9-things-you-need-to-know-about-lent)
1. What is Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday is the day that Lent begins).The name comes from the fact that a particular rite is always celebrated on this Wednesday in which the faithful have ashes put on their foreheads. According to the Roman Missal: In the course of today’s Mass, ashes are blessed and distributed. These are made from the olive branches or branches of other trees that were blessed the previous year [on Palm/Passion Sunday].
2. What does the putting on of ashes symbolize? According to the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: 125. In the Roman Rite, the beginning of the forty days of penance is marked with the austere symbol of ashes which are used in the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday. The use of ashes is a survival from an ancient rite according to which converted sinners submitted themselves to canonical penance. The act of putting on ashes symbolizes fragility and mortality, and the need to be redeemed by the mercy of God. Far from being a merely external act, the Church has retained the use of ashes to symbolize that attitude of internal penance to which all the baptized are called during Lent. The faithful who come to receive ashes should be assisted in perceiving the implicit internal significance of this act, which disposes them towards conversion and renewed Easter commitment.
3. How does the distribution of ashes take place? The Roman Missal states that after the homily, the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water. Then the priest places ashes on the head of all those present who come to him, and says to each one: Repent, and believe the Gospel. Or: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Meanwhile an antiphon or another appropriate chant is sung.
4. Is there a particular way the ashes should be put on people’s heads? Fr. Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at Regina Apostolorum University comments: There are no set rules regarding this, and it largely depends on local custom. In most English-speaking countries the prevailing custom seems to be that the priest places enough holy water into the ashes to form a kind of paste. The ashes are then daubed in the form of a cross on the forehead. Many Catholics see this practice as a means of publicly showing their Faith and leave the smudge on their forehead throughout Ash Wednesday. In other countries, such as Spain, Italy and parts of Latin America, the prevailing custom seems to be sprinkling fairly dry ashes on the crown of the head. But even within these geographical areas, both customs are practiced and there may be other legitimate traditions as well.
5. Can this be done outside of Mass? Yes. The Roman Missal states:
The blessing and distribution of ashes may also take place outside Mass. In this case, the rite is preceded by a Liturgy of the Word, with the Entrance Antiphon, the Collect, and the readings with their chants as at Mass. Then there follow the Homily and the blessing and distribution of ashes. The rite is concluded with the Universal Prayer, the Blessing, and the Dismissal of the Faithful.
6. Can someone other than a priest distributes the ashes? Yes. The Book of Blessings states: 1659 This rite may be celebrated by a priest or deacon who may be assisted by lay ministers in the distribution of ashes. The blessing of the ashes, however, is reserved to a priest or deacon.
7. How long do you leave the ashes on? There is no rule about this. It is a matter of personal decision based on the individual’s own inclinations and circumstances. The ashes can be left on until they wear off naturally or they can be washed off or wiped off when the individual chooses.
8. Can ashes be distributed to the sick who cannot attend Mass? Yes. The Book of Blessings states: 1657— This order [in the Book of Blessings] may also be used when ashes are brought to the sick. According to circumstances, the rite may be abbreviated by the minister. Nevertheless, at least one Scripture reading should be included in the service. 1658 — If already blessed ashes are brought to the sick, the blessing is omitted, and the distribution takes place immediately after the homily. The homily should conclude by inviting the sick person to prepare himself or herself for the reception of the ashes.
9. Is Ash Wednesday a Holyday of Obligation? No. There is no obligation to attend Mass. However, Ash Wednesday is a penitential day and it (together with Good Friday) is one of two days of the year on which fasting, and abstinence are required. L/20