What’s With the Ashes

by chief princess

Lent is the start of a solemn period for Christians

Lent is the start of a solemn period for Christians

“Mommy, why does that lady have dirt on her face?” Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday which means that some Catholics will have gone to church to receive ashes.  But what is the meaning of it?  What do you say to a young child that asks the question why?

Here’s what I know.  Every year on Palm Sunday, palm branches are blessed by a priest.  The remaining blessed palms are then burned and the ashes used on the following Ash Wednesday to symbolize the beginning of Lent. Traditionally, the priest marks your forehead with the ashes and says: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”  At the most basic level, it’s a symbolic reminder that Lent is starting.  However, it also reminds us of the frailty of human life and the importance of humility.

Many individuals decide to give something up during the 40 days of Lent.  How many of your friends talk about giving up chocolate or desserts?  Yes, it’s definitely a sacrifice not to eat something we enjoy (of course we won’t mention that it will help them fit into their Easter dress.)  But, what is contrition?  I howled in laughter, when I read that the word contrition derives from the Latin “contritus” which means “ground by guilt.” Hmmm…

But I’m a glass-half-full-kinda-gal. What about turning the notion of sacrifice and contrition from giving something up to giving up of yourself? [Read: helping others.]  What if you decide to volunteer at a soup kitchen?   To make a donation to your local food bank?  To attend the PTA meeting and help out at the next event? To be nice to the co-worker that drives you nuts?  In fact, giving up of yourself might be harder than doing without.

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