Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Wednesday's Word - March 6: Ash

ash  noun
\ ˈash \

Definition of ash from Merriam-Webster:

1: something that symbolizes grief, repentance, or humiliation
2a: the solid residue left when combustible material is thoroughly burned or is oxidized by chemical means
  b: fine particles of mineral matter from a volcanic vent
3 ashes plural : the remains of the dead human body after cremation or disintegration


Ashes were used in ancient times to express grief. When Tamar was raped by her half-brother, "she sprinkled ashes on her head, tore her robe, and with her face buried in her hands went away crying" (2 Samuel 13:19). The gesture was also used to express sorrow for sins and faults. In Job 42:3–6, Job says to God: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." The prophet Jeremiah calls for repentance by saying: "O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, roll in the ashes" (Jer 6:26). The prophet Daniel recounted pleading to God: "I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes" (Daniel 9:3). Just prior to the New Testament period, the rebels fighting for Jewish independence, the Maccabees, prepared for battle using ashes: "That day they fasted and wore sackcloth; they sprinkled ashes on their heads and tore their clothes" (1 Maccabees 3:47; see also 4:39).

Examples of the practice among Jews are found in several other books of the Bible, including Numbers 19:9, 19:17, Jonah 3:6, Esther 4:1, and Hebrews 9:13. Jesus is quoted as speaking of the practice in Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13: "If the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago (sitting) in sackcloth and ashes." 

Christians have continued the practice of using ashes as an external sign of repentance. Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225) said that confession of sin should be accompanied by lying in sackcloth and ashes. The historian Eusebius (c. 260/265 – 339/340) recounts how a repentant apostate covered himself with ashes when begging Pope Zephyrinus to readmit him to communion.

Ash Wednesday is a Christian holy day of prayer, fasting, and repentance. It is preceded by Shrove Tuesday and falls on the first day of Lent, the six weeks of penitence before Easter. 

Ash Wednesday derives its name from the placing of repentance ashes on the foreheads of participants to either the words "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" or the dictum "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." The ashes are prepared by burning palm leaves from the previous year's Palm Sunday celebrations. 

Because it is the first day of Lent, many Christians, on Ash Wednesday, often begin marking a Lenten calendar, praying a Lenten daily devotional, and abstaining from a luxury that they will not partake in until Easter Sunday arrives.

In the Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting, abstinence from meat, and repentance – a day of contemplating one's transgressions. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 (whose health enables them to do so) are permitted to consume one full meal, along with two smaller meals, which together should not equal the full meal. Some Catholics will go beyond the minimum obligations put forth by the Church and undertake a complete fast or a bread and water fast until sunset. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also days of abstinence from meat (mammals and fowl), as are all Fridays during Lent (which is why you see all those Friday fish specials at restaurants). Some Catholics continue fasting throughout Lent, as was the Church's traditional requirement, concluding only after the celebration of the Easter Vigil. 

Ashes are ceremonially placed on the heads of Christians on Ash Wednesday, either by being sprinkled over their heads or, in English-speaking countries, more often by being marked on their foreheads as a visible cross. The words (based on Genesis 3:19) used traditionally to accompany this gesture are, "Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris." ("Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.") This custom is credited to Pope Gregory I the Great (c. 540–604). In the 1969 revision of the Roman Rite, an alternative formula (based on Mark 1:15) was introduced and given first place "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" and the older formula was translated as "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." The old formula, based on the words spoken to Adam and Eve after their sin, reminds worshippers of their sinfulness and mortality and thus, implicitly, of their need to repent in time. The newer formula makes explicit what was only implicit in the old.

Various manners of placing the ashes on worshippers' heads are in use within the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the two most common being to use the ashes to make a cross on the forehead and sprinkling the ashes over the crown of the head. Originally, the ashes were strewn over men's heads, but, probably because women had their heads covered in church, were placed on the foreheads of women. In the Catholic Church the manner of imposing ashes depends largely on local custom, since no fixed rule has been laid down. Although the account of Ælfric of Eynsham shows that in about the year 1000 the ashes were "strewn" on the head, the marking of the forehead is the method that now prevails in English-speaking countries. In its ritual of "Blessing of Ashes", this states that "the ashes are blessed at the beginning of the Eucharist; and after they have been blessed they are placed on the forehead of the clergy and people." On Ash Wednesday, the Pope, who is the Bishop of Rome, traditionally takes part in a penitential procession from the Church of Saint Anselm to the Basilica of Santa Sabina, where, in accordance with the custom in Italy and many other countries, ashes are sprinkled on his head, not smudged on his forehead, and he places ashes on the heads of others in the same way.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of a 40-day period which is an allusion to the separation of Jesus in the desert to fast and pray. During this time he was tempted. Matthew 4:1–11, Mark 1:12–13, and Luke 4:1–13. While not specifically instituted in the Bible text, the 40-day period of repentance is also analogous to the 40 days during which Moses repented and fasted in response to the making of the Golden calf.(Exo. 34:27–28) (Jews today follow a 40-day period of repenting in preparation for and during the High Holy Days from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur.)

Ash Wednesday is exactly 46 days before Easter Sunday, a moveable feast based on the cycles of the moon. Since Sundays are considered "little Easters", they are not counted in the days of Lent, which gives us the 40 days of Lent. The earliest date Ash Wednesday can occur is 4 February (which is only possible during a year with Easter on 22 March), which happened in 1598, 1693, 1761 and 1818 and will next occur in 2285. The latest date Ash Wednesday can occur is 10 March (when Easter Day falls on 25 April) which occurred in 1666, 1734, 1886 and 1943 and will next occur in 2038. Ash Wednesday has never occurred on Leap Year Day (29 February), and it will not occur as such until 2096. The only other years of the third millennium that will have Ash Wednesday on 29 February are 2468, 2688, 2840 and 2992. (Ash Wednesday falls on 29 February only if Easter is on 15 April in a leap year starting on a Sunday.)






Source: Wikipedia