Vol: 45, No.15 ASH WEDNESDAY ( B) February 14 2018  
You are merciful to all, O Lord, and despise nothing that you have made. You overlook people’s sins, to bring them to repentance, and you spare them, for you are the Lord our God. (Wis 11:24, 25, 27)
Dear brothers and sisters, today we begin a spiritual journey of forty days in preparation for the celebration of Easter. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the forty day liturgical period of prayer, fasting and abstinence. In biblical language forty is a symbolic number expressing a fairly long period of time. The number “forty” occurs in several places in the Bible. According to the Synoptic Gospels Jesus spent forty days in the desert in fasting and prayer, where he endured temptation by Satan. According to Genesis 7:4 there was rain for forty days and forty nights during the time of Noah. Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights (Exod 24:8). The Lord told Jonah that after forty days Nineveh would be overthrown (Jonah 3:4). The Lord Jesus after his resurrection appeared to his disciples for forty days (Acts 1:3).
Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a reminder of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. The ashes used are typically gathered from the burning of the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting, abstinence and repentance; it is a day of contemplating one’s transgressions.
Ashes were used in ancient times to
express mourning. Marking oneself with ashes was the penitent’s way of expressing sorrow for one’s sins and faults. Soon we will have the rite of the imposition of ashes on our forehead. The celebrant says these words: “You are dust and to dust you shall return, (cf. Gen 3:19)” or repeats Jesus’ exhortation: “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mk  1:15). Both formulae are a reminder of the truth of human existence: we are limited beings ever in need of repentance and conversion. How important it is to listen to and welcome this reminder in our time! The call to conversion is then a push to return, as did the son of the parable of the Merciful Father, to the arms of the Merciful Father, to trust Him and to entrust ourselves to Him.
As we begin the season of Lent let us use the opportunity for inner purification and to open a new chapter in our spiritual life. (Pause)
(The Penitential Act is omitted, and the Distribution of Ashes takes its place).
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns....
(Prophet Joel invites the people to return to the Lord with fasting, weeping and mourning. These are the ways to express true repentance which should come from the heart of the penitent).
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