by Terry Rogers
The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday which will be celebrated on February 26. In the Catholic faith, there is an ancient practice throughout the world with ashes placed on the foreheads of parishioners. The ashes are placed during an Ash Wednesday Mass or at the Liturgy of the Word Service officiated by a Deacon where ashes are distributed.
“The ashes in the Catholic faith have three important meanings,” Father Anthony Giamello of St. John’s Catholic Church explained. “In the Old Testament, Jonah 3:6, Joseph 7:6 and Job 2:12 mention that it was common for people to wear sackcloth and cover themselves in ashes while fasting. Also, it says in Lamentations 2:10 that “they cast dust on their heads and dress in sackcloth.” The ashes thus symbolize that the fasting period of Lent has begun. Second, the ashes recall our own creation and our mortality. Genesis 3:19 tells us, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Third, the ashes, given as a cross on the forehead, act as a public proclamation of our identity as Catholics.”
Father Giamello explained that Jesus suffered and died on a cross as a visible reminder to renounce sin and to convert our hearts back to the Lord as it says in Joel 2:12. As we approach the Priest or Deacon on Wednesday, we will hear these words “repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Before Jesus began his public ministry, He went into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights where He prayed, fasted and overcame temptation. We, too, are encouraged to go deeper into our faith lives by reading Holy Scripture, make a good confession, praying the Holy Rosary and striving to receive Holy Communion in a state of Grace.
There is more to Ash Wednesday than the receiving of ashes, Father Giamello explained. There is no obligation for a Catholic to go to Mass or receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, although it is highly encouraged, it is required that all Catholics age 18-59 fast and that all Catholics 14 and older abstain from meat that day.
“We abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays of Lent out of respect for Jesus who offered His flesh on the cross for the sake of our salvation,” Father Giamello said. “Fasting means that instead of three normal meals, with possible snacks in between, we are required to eat no more than two small meals and only one normal-sized meal with no snacks in between.
“People who are very ill as well as pregnant and nursing mothers are not required to fast but, if possible, should still abstain from meat,” Father Giamello said. “As a friendly reminder, Catholics age 14 and older are required to abstain from meat every Friday during Lent which is every Friday between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.”
Anyone who has been away from the Church and Mass for some time, Father Giamello warmly invites them home to journey with St. John’s this Lenten season starting with Ash Wednesday. A 9 AM Mass will be held at St. John the Apostle along with a 12 Noon service at both St. John’s and St. Bernadette. Mass will also be held at both churches at 7 PM that day.
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