What would be the best response to claims that the application of Ashes is in contradiction to Matt 16?
Hey Soldier, can you be a bit more specific because I just looked at that passage and don’t see anything where it could apply.
Since Lent is a time of penance, ask them to go through the Bible and find all the places where it speaks of repenting with sackcloth and ashes. There’s quite a few, even in the New Testament.
many of the criticisms i have encountered focus on “neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting” and “wash your face” clauses within 6:16-18. In a certain sense, any Christian of any tradition who publicly acknowledges their faith also acknowledges fasting, since as Christian, all are called by Christ to fast- but i do not think this point would be very persuasive to some protestants. How do we reconcile our public marking of ashes with this passage? I think that there is a clear distinction between “neglect” of appearance, and making a profession of faith by way of a visible marking- but, again, is this splitting hairs, or does this sufficiently distinguish our practice from what Jesus describes? What is the true sense of this passage?
A common phrase during Ash Wednesday is, “You are from dust, and to dust you shall return.” Ashes are meant to remind us of our sinfulness, and our desire to follow Christ. That is why the ashes are formed into the shape of a cross on our forehead.
The true sense of the passage lies in the fact that the behaviours are not criticised in and of themselves, rather they are criticised IF done for the wrong motives. It criticises the long gloomy faces WHEN done for the motive of drawing attention to your fasting. Or repetitive prayer IF it’s out of a mistaken belief you’ll be better heard (and don’t forget Jesus Himself prayed three times in the same words in Gethsemane).
Having ashes on my forehead tells people I’m Catholic, as does a crucifix or cross worn around the neck tell people you’re Christian. It reveals what Church I belong to. It doesn’t reveal diddly squat to the average observer about my fasting or not fasting.
It’s not to boast about anything that I’ve personally done or not done, but instead to boast, as Paul did, in the cross of Christ and remind myself primarily, others only incidentally, that we are ALL in need of repentance.
A great comeback also entails: “Yeah, the readings at Catholic Masses throughout the world on Ash Wednesdays are taken from Matthew 6.”
This article by Jimmy Akin will give you additional scripture support: Day of Ashes
I especially like this section from the article:
In the Bible, a mark on the forehead is a symbol of ownership. By having his forehead marked with the sign of a cross, a person symbolizes that he belongs to Jesus Christ, who died on a cross. This is in imitation of the spiritual mark or seal that is put on a Christian in baptism, when he is delivered from slavery to sin and the devil and made a slave of righteousness and Christ (Rom. 6:3-18).