Ash Wednesday - Why Ashes?


#1

I kind of find it ironic, that on Ash Wednesday we have a Gospel where Christ says for us NOT to put ashes on our head when fasting… to use oil, look happy, let no one know etc

While I know Christ was focusing on the hypocritical aspect of some people basically saying "look at me! aint I great for fasting"
It still sits wrong with me that we completely ignore what He says in regards to ashes.

Call me picky but would it not be ok on all accounts just to have the sign of the cross on the forehead using holy oil?


#2

No worries Annatar,

“We” is a broad generalization.

Yes, individual Catholics may view the ashes as a “badge” of some sort, for which they should be recognized as pious, which is a misunderstanding of the gospel reading (at best) or intentional ignorance & violation (at worst.)

This is not the point or purpose of the ashes. Individual actions are not actions of the entire Church, nor do they dictate what the Church teaches.

That said, the Catholic Church, including individuals who hold to it’s teaching, don’t even remotely ignore Christ.

I understand your sense of irony about the Gospel reading on Ash Wednesday, but there are three reasons that it isn’t really as ironic as it superficially appears.

  1. The ashes are not signs of fasting or prayer, but reminders that we are nothing but “dust & ashes”, & to remember to adopt an attitude of true repentance.

  2. Practically speaking, the ashes are typically not even recognized by most people. I don’t know about everyone who thinks the ashes are a “badge of honor”, but having others look at them & say “Hey, you have a smudge on your forehead" seems to be a pretty humbling comment which likely serves well to remind them that there is no such “badge” to be found.

  3. The point of the Gospel reading from Matthew 6:1-6;16-21 is that we should not make public displays of piety, as this cannot be done in a true spirit of repentance. Do we pray & fast for men or for God?

Jimmy Akin wrote a good article on the origin of Ash Wednesday, which you may find quite helpful in explaining what Ash Wednesday is & how it came about.

catholic.com/thisrock/2001/0104fea1sb.asp

In it, he notes that the ashes are not required, but a spiritual reminder for ourselves.

*“On the first day of Lent, this signing is done with ashes because they are a biblical symbol of mourning and penance. In Bible times the custom was to fast, wear sackcloth, sit in dust and ashes, and put dust and ashes on one’s head (cf. 1 Sam. 4:12; 2 Sam. 1:20, 13:19, 15:32). Ashes also symbolize death and so remind us of our mortality. When the priest uses his thumb to sign one of the faithful with the ashes and says, “Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return,” he is echoing God’s address to Adam (Gen. 3:19; cf. Job 34:15; Ps. 90:3, 104:29; Eccles. 3:20). This phrase also echoes the words at a Catholic burial, “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust,” which is based on God’s words to Adam in Genesis 3 and Abraham’s confession, “I am nothing but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27).

Catholics are not required to have their foreheads signed with ashes. It is, though, strongly advised as a visible spiritual reminder that encourages us to adopt an attitude of prayer, repentance, and humility.”*

:cool:

Regards,

Chris


#3

“It still sits wrong with me that we completely ignore what He says in regards to ashes”

By we I meant the Catholic church… I wasnt meaning in this sentence that we were ALL being hypocrites, nor that the Church was…ermm… spreading that message.

Its just… how to put it. Well meaning as it all is… "remember man thou art dust…"
Christ did say no ashes on the head.
While I know He meant us to look deeper than just No Ashes… to the possible hypocritical, it still doesnt sit well.

Like I said, the same result would be obtained by a sign of the cross with just holy oil.

Something I think one of the Prophets said to King Saul in regards to animals for Holocaust… Saul was told to slaughter everything, but he kept a herd of cattle to offer up in holocaust…

“which do you think God perfers, Holocaust or obedience?”
(I probably misquoted that, appologies!!! but its the gist of it)

As well meaning the idea of Holocaust was, he was told by God to slaughter everything.

As well meaning as “remember man thou art…” is, we are commanded by Christ not to have Ashes on our head.

Okay it strikes me as not a big deal but there are a few things like that that are ignored.
E.g. I read the thread on why call Priest Father… not convinced at all.


#4

I for one don’t receive Ashes on Ash Wednesday because I’m holier-than-thou, I receive them because I’m a sinner in need of repentance. And I wear them for the rest of the day not because I’m pious, but so that people ask me about them and I can explain the tradition and the penitential meaning behind it.

Were the people of Nineveh being insincere when they performed public penance, wearing sackcloth and ashes? God spared them, so clearly not. Public displays of penitence don’t automatically mean hypocrisy.

Besides, most people wipe the ashes off shortly after they come out of church anyway, so it’s not an issue.

As for ‘father’ - what on earth do you call your biological male parent if not ‘father’? :hmmm: Violating the rule right there, then.

And there are loads of faithful followers in Christ in the New Testament who call either themselves or others ‘father’ (I need to acknowledge the source for these)

• In Acts 7, St. Stephen, in his speech to the Sanhedrin, which he spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7: 55) he calls the members of the Sanhedrin “brothers and fathers” (Acts 7:2). He repeatedly speaks of the Old Testament patriarchs as “fathers” (Acts 7: 8, 12, 14-15, 29, and others). The early Christians spoke of David as “our father.” (Acts 4:25)

• St. Paul and the other apostles often addressed their audiences as fathers. (Acts 22:1, Ephesians 6:4, I John 2:13-14)

• St. Paul and the inspired writers often refer to their ancestors in the faith as fathers. (Cf. Acts 13:17,Romans 4:1-18, where Abraham is called “father” seven times; 2 Timothy 1:3, Hebrews 1:1 and 12:9 [referring to fathers in the flesh], and 2 Peter 3:4)

• In his Letters, St. Paul repeatedly refers to himself as a father (1 Corinthians 4: 15, Philemon 1:10, and Philippians 2:22)


#5

Im not saying its hypocritical as such to have ashes on the forehead, just that Christ said not to. Thats all.

As for the Father bit, its in a spiritual sense that it may be verbotten
:slight_smile:

The danger is, as with any title, that some may take on airs and graces.
Actually that reminds me. Its basically traditional at this stage but at weddings the Priest is always at the top table… in a place of honour.

Dont get me wrong, when I got married I liked it that he was there. However if I was the Priest, I would always seek to sit at the back, and only if pressed, go up to the top table.

Such commands by Christ I think is not a condemnation of those who use ashes, are called Father (ina spiritual sense) etc etc, its there as a guard against possible misuse.

Thats what Im getting at!!! Im not judging!!!


#6

The uses in the NT listed above ARE using it in a spiritual sense, unless you think the Sanhedrin were literally the fathers of Stephen (how could he have more than one?) or Paul of the Corinthians, Philemon and the Colossians??

I’ve actually only been to one wedding where the priest attended the reception(being weekends, it’s usually their busy time) - and guests at a wedding rarely get to determine their own seating - it’s usually preplanned beforehand. In other words you sit where your place card is put, doesn’t mean you necessarily chose to sit in that spot. It’s chosen by whoever determines the seating, probaby as a nice thankyou gesture to the priest, who after all usually works very hard behind the scenes with premarriage counselling, rehearsals, paperwork and so on.

And Christ’s words about being humble apply equally to all people - so shouldn’t the Bride and Groom similarly not have a place of honour either? Why is display OK for them and not for the priest? Is it written anywhere that priests are subject to different rules in these areas from the rest of us? Of course they aren’t.

You’re being incredibly scrupulous about this sort of stuff - and applying an unfair and particularly onerous double standard on priests into the bargain. They are warnings equally for ALL of us, no need to single them out.


#7

Im NOT singling out Priests at all!!!

As for the wedding, the reception is about THEM!
Maybe you are fortunate where you live. I just know some persons aye Priests who would get slightly annoyied if they werent at the top table.

The idea of being humble is on us all, but in some ways doubly so for Priests, in that they have to show leadership in such matters.

I get the feeling you think Im clergy bashing. Im not!! I have the greatest respect for them. God love them it is a hard calling.

As for Paul, Stephen etc calling them Father… it wasnt as if they were being ASKED to call them Father.
If I call a Priest Father it is out of respect and as such ok. If a Priest insists on being called Father…ahhh then thats where the danger is!

I feel Christ’s warning about using the title Father, places of honour etc, stems from Him wanting to highlight a possible pitfalls.
A Priest might not be affected by such trappings… yet it is good to avoid the possibilty altogether.
"…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen"

Thats what I mean!!
I want to make life easier for Priests, by removing even a slight possibility of temptation in this area.
I cant see why I should be berated for trying to help?!?!?!?:confused:


#8

This is a classic case of context or more specifically lack of context

I kind of find it ironic, that on Ash Wednesday we have a Gospel where Christ says for us NOT to put ashes on our head when fasting… to use oil, look happy, let no one know etc

the text also reads “do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,” usccb.org/nab/bible/matthew/matthew6.htm So is the text telling us to do the impossible? No, the text is telling us Church is not about showing off. It implies there is no greater faith than the one who acknowledges God secretly but sincerely

While I know Christ was focusing on the hypocritical aspect of some people basically saying "look at me! aint I great for fasting"
It still sits wrong with me that we completely ignore what He says in regards to ashes.

Call me picky but would it not be ok on all accounts just to have the sign of the cross on the forehead using holy oil?

I would suggest you consider what millions do which is to receive your ash around 7pm

actually the text does not say not to but ashes on your head, it says to “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,” notice these are not exclusions one can easilly do both on the same day

Again once context is placed around the quote the passage calls for you to deny your earthly father, Rabbi, and Master while doing all they say and you are to deny them while being humble. Again are you asked to do the impossible? No, you are commanded not to confuse your earthly leaders with your true leader. You are to deny the “father”, “Rabbi” and “Master” should they lead you toward sin. The text and its context is quite clear on the subject it says " "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. "usccb.org/nab/bible/matthew/matthew23.htm

The Rabbi being at the table is in the same passage mentioned above and thus the same context. If you believe the Catholic Priest is leading you to be a “a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves” (which means to hell) then you are obligated to deny him, however I, and millions of others do not believe this is the case.


#9

erm sorry? I dont understand…

actually the text does not say not to but ashes on your head, it says to “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,” notice these are not exclusions one can easilly do both on the same day

Anoint your head with Oil… a common practice to make your hair, shiny, full of life, indicative of a full healthy diet. Same with washing your face.
As you say, acknowledging God secretly but sincerly. Ashes on your forehead aint that secret. The Lord your God sees everything that is done in private…


Again once context is placed around the quote the passage calls for you to deny your earthly father, Rabbi, and Master while doing all they say and you are to deny them while being humble. Again are you asked to do the impossible? No, you are commanded not to confuse your earthly leaders with your true leader. …

In regards to the “Father” debate, I just figure its easier to err on the side of caution. There must be a title of some sort that could be given to clergy but avoids even the slightest chance we could disobey Christ.
I am in no way calling for less respect for any Priest or their position.

If thats how it comes across, you have my deepest appologies. It was never meant so.


#10

So its okay to put ashes on your head as long as you are not fasting…


#11

? Why do you think the ashes are there?


#12

Somehow I dont think ye all know what Im on about.

Basically no matter how good a reason there is for ashes. Christ said no ashes on the head when fasting.

As King Saul was confronted - which do you think God prefers, Holocaust or Obedience?

“Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do or…”


#13

Secretly but sincerely? Can’t get much more UN-secret than rocking up to Church of a Sunday morning, now, can you? All those people together singing and praying their hearts out for everyone to see - and daring to park their cars in the parking lot so EVERYONE knows they’re doing it! Positively scandalous! And that I should DARE to wear a crucifix or a Miraculous Medal, heaven forbid I’m doing it to be holier-than-thou :eek: …

… except that God commands public worship, and public statements of faith - a la the First Commandment primarily. Bit of a wrinkle in the old ‘showing your faith in public is wrong’ argument.

Not to mention the bit where we’re supposed to be the light of the world out on the lampstand for everyone to see :shrug:

Bit hard to do that if you’re too darn scared of your own shadow to proclaim your faith by something as simple and painless as wearing ashes. Imagine if you REALLY had to stick up for the Catholic Church, you’d be lost.


#14

To put it simply, you’re ignoring context. Also, how do you interpret Matthew 5:13-16?

[quote=Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)]“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."
[/quote]


#15

Why ashes? Recall the words of the minister when they are put on your forehead. I like the old form, “Remember man that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return”. We recall our mortality and the inevitability of death. We also bear witness to our belief in Jesus as Catholics. I recall one case where a person with ashes was asked in a confrontational way, "Are you a Jesus freak:. The answer was beautiful. the person responded, “God, I hope so”.
Prayers & blessings
Deacon Ed B


#16

I believe you are mistaken in your assertion that Christ has placed some sort of specific prohibition on the use of ashes as sign of repentance or that a public sign of repentance is necessarily a bad thing.

The scripture you are using to support your case (Matthew 6:17) seems to be much more about seeking the glory of God instead of the praises of man than it is about washing your face and combing your hair.

For example In Matthew Chapter 11 (Also Luke 10:13) He seems to imply that having repented in “sack cloth and ashes” would have been a good thing.

Also illustrative, I think, is Luke 18:9-14. Jesus does not seem to condemn the tax collector’s public display of repentance, does He?

If you personally feel that receiving ashes on your forehead would be about seeking the praises of men rather than it being a sign of repentance before God, then you should avoid doing so.

Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation and no one is required to receive ashes.

That said I do not believe Christ has prohibited you, or anyone else, from doing so.

Chuck


#17

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