Why do Catholics Celebrate Ash Wednesday?

For many non-Catholics (and many NEW Catholics) Ash Wednesday can seem a little strange. Why would anyone want to walk around with ashes on their head all day? And many cradle Catholics have been going to mass and getting ashes every year without understanding why, as well.

Why Do Catholics Celebrate Ash Wednesday

Image by Balaska (2009) via Wikipedia, CCO Public Domain

What is the significance of Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is a day of prayer and repentance. We fast, we abstain from meat and we get ashes as a reminder of our human frailty. It is a day to remember the spiritual reality that surrounds us; we remember that our earthly life is only part of the journey. We will die and our bodies will “return to dust.”

Ash Wednesday is a gift. Yes, a gift. This day of repentance is a gift because it gives us the opportunity to take stock of our lives. It is almost like a “spiritual New Year” where we can assess our relationship with the Lord.

  • Have we grown in our relationship with the Lord over this past year?
  • Have I grown lax or lukewarm?
  • In what areas of my life do I need to change in order to become the person God wants me to be?

From this reflection, we can make “resolutions” or a plan of action for how we will spend our Lent this year. Instead of focusing on giving up coffee or sweets or whatever (which are good things in themselves), we can give up those habits or sins which are holding us back. Or we can make a plan to learn more about our faith or pray the scriptures more often.

Why Ashes?

There is a long history of the use of ashes as a sign of repentance. I encourage you to read the History of Ash Wednesday over at American Catholic.

As regards to the rite of ashes, it is very simple. We go up to the priest or whomever is distributing the ashes. He makes the sign of the cross (well, it should be a cross!) on our forehead while saying “Man you are dust and to dust your shall return” or a similar phrases. This phrase comes from Genesis 3:19

“By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat,

Until you return to the ground,

from which you were taken;

For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return.”

Our Obligation

Ash Wednesday is not a holiday of obligation. We are not required to go to mass, but it is strongly recommended. And why wouldn’t we want to go if we are able?

We are obligated to abstain from meat and to fast today. The fasting requirement consists of one full meal and two smaller meals that equal one meal. No snacking or eating between meals. Of course, beverages are allowed.  Everyone over the age of 14 is required to abstain from meat and everyone between the ages of 18-60 are required to fast. (See Canon law 1250-1252) I think pregnant women are exempt, but not sure.

Related Links

Here are a couple of links for further reading.

New Advent

About.com

Fallible Blogma

I pray that today and your whole Lenten journey be a blessed and grace-filled time for you and your family!

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All Saints Day

All Saints Day is this Sunday, November 1. It is a glorious solemnity wherein the Catholic Church celebrates all of the saints, known and unknown. It is definitely one of my favorite Solemnities in the liturgical calendar. This year, since it falls on Sunday, it is a holy day of obligation (as are all Sundays).

Celebrating All Saints Day

Image by kropekk_pl (2009) via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

Sadly, here in the United States, if All Saints Day falls during the week it is no longer a holy day of obligation. I almost wish it was always a holy day of obligation because it is a wonderful thing to celebrate all the saints, whether they have been officially canonized or not. Why? Because they are where we want to be! They “fought the good fight,” won the battle, and now live forever with the Triune God. That’s worth celebrating if you ask me. 😉

One way to celebrate (besides going to Mass, of course!), is to pray the Litany of the Saints. It is such a beautiful prayer – and even more beautiful when sung! Here is a lovely version that I found on YouTube:

Another great way to celebrate is to read up on a saint (or few) that you do not know about yet. The Church has lifted up many saints as examples for us and when we read about them we can get inspired. Here are a few of my favorite saints.

For information about the history of All Saints Day, go here and here. Speaking of history, did you know that the word Halloween came from “All Hallow’s Eve?” It originally was a day of fasting and preparation for all Saints Day; however, over the years it unfortunately evolved to the scary, spooky, commercial day it is now.

(Yep, I am not a fan of Halloween. I don’t like all the emphasis on ghouls and scary things. I know it is supposed to be fun but I don’t see anything fun about glorifying evil in any way – even in jest – because there is nothing glorious or good about evil. Anyone with me or am I the only one?)

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