Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday. More people go to church today than Easter or Christmas. Here are a few recommendations to make your day better.

1 - Remember to abstain from meat and fast. It is one of only two days we are required to fast every year.
2 - Pray every time you get a hunger pain.
3 - Start your Lent off on the right foot by being joyful and kind today. Remember we are not to let anyone "know" we are fasting.
4 - Right down your Lenten resolutions, so that you can remind yourself daily about them. My family and I did this last night together.
5 - Go to Mass. Wear your ashes today and be ready to tell someone why you do so.

To get us in the mood for Lent and Ashes:
Allegre's Miserere (means "pity"). Do yourself a favor. Turn it up, close your eyes and pray with it. This song is so beautiful, that it was forbidden to be sung outside of the Vatican for a while.

The text comes from Psalm 51 (one of my favorites):
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar
Tip O' The Hat to Rocco.

If you want to know details and/or have more questions than our previous post answered, then Jimmy Akin has a nice roundup.


BJ said...

Not to be trite or irreverent or even sardonic, but what is the difference between wearing the ashes and letting someone know that you're fasting? It seems to me that on this day, one implies the other. Why not hide both?

Marcel said...

No problem. I think your question is certainly a valid one. We have to examine our motives. If we are wearing ashes to show off, then it is for the wrong reason. If it for a sign that we are nothing (ashes), and done in humility - not as a sign of fasting but rather as a sign of penance - then our motives are clear.

It is also a good way to be able to be humbled by the comments and stares we get in addition to the chance to witness to our faith.

Those Jesus admonished for the "show" of fasting made themselves look bad to seek pity and/or respect for their devotion.

Kevin said...

Your answer makes sense; the important difference is the attitude that one has toward praying, fasting, &c. If it's to glorify yourself, then it's wrong. If it's an outward show of humility, then it's good.

Still, I wonder, why create the problem? Why have both an outward show of piety and a condemnation of such as part of the same celebration? Doesn't this almost mandate an explanation of "why the reading doesn't apply the way that you think it applies" every Ash Wednesday?

Other than offering a solid and dependable source of humor for Ash Wednesday, what is gained by having our words and actions (seemingly) contradict each other every year?

One answer might be that it opens a space for teaching and discussion. And that's good and useful.

On the other hand, it also means that Catholics must be ready to answer such questions whenever they're asked, and most seem unprepared to do so.

Even in posts like the one that started this thread, the contradiction is there, but not addressed or explained. Is it that those "in the know" assume that every else understands? Is it that we've all internalized the seeming contradictions of our faith, so that the things that leap out at non-Catholics, or curious Catholics, don't really faze us anymore?

D.J. said...

Beautiful song, but are you sure that it isn't copyrighted?

BJ said...


Thanks for the answer, I appreciate that and see the point. However, I must agree some with Kevin. The Gospel reading talks about putting oil on the head so that there is no way anyone could know you're fasting. The ashes seem to go against that.

Anyways, I do this calls for a serious reflection. It's shocking, humbling, and uncomfortable to have someone 2 inches away from your face say, "To dust you will return." Gives me the creeps, which is a good thing.

Marcel said...

d.j. - Copyrighted by whom and in what sense? The person with the original post who allowed embedding would be at fault.

Kevin and BJ - I also sense some contradiction, but I guess it just doesn't seem quite as strong (subjectively) as what you might imply.

I guess it is a matter of individual conscience. If you are feeling overly proud of displaying your ashes, then wash them off. If not, and you are comfortable with the witness, then keep them on. Just remember the sign says "I am a sinner" more than "I am Catholic".

Remember, that the faith can be a contradiction in itself. God/man; spiritual/physical; mercy/justice; life/death; faith/works; etc. Simeon even called Jesus a "sign of contradiction".

D.J. said...


The song in the video would be copyrighted by whatever group recorded it.

Marcel said...

Ah. Never thought about it. Thanks for bringing it up.