Definition: The first day of the forty day period known as Lent. On Ash Wednesday, Catholics receive ashes on the forehead as a reminder of the brevity of life, to encourage humility, and as a sign of penance. [Penance is making satisfaction for personal sin]. Palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned into ashes. The ashes are blessed, and therefore impart sacramental grace to the recipients. Applying the ashes, the priest says: “Remember, man you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The Catholic is reminded of the necessity to again convert their hearts to the Lord. Also, abstinence from meat is required on Ash Wednesday.
Discussion: The reception of ashes to atone for sin denies that God’s justice has been satisfied in the atonement of Jesus at the cross (Is. 53:11). While it may be profitable to humbly consider the brevity of life, Ash Wednesday and penance reflect the incorrect Catholic teaching that justification is a life-long process (Rom. 5:1). Jesus reproves the Pharisees for their public displays of religiosity – and the reception of ashes is such a display as well (Mt. 6:17-18).
Articles & Viewpoints:
- Article from the Catholic Encyclopedia – Ash Wednesday