Ash Wednesday – an opportunity for witness
His Grace, the Metropolitan Archbishop, Msgr Jerome Lloyd OSJV will use Ash Wednesday as an opportunity to witness to Catholic culture and Tradition today by making himself available to impose ashes on any passer-by who would like them at Churchill Square in Brighton during lunchtime i.e. between 12-2pm. The timing is deliberate so that workers unable to attend Mass may receive an opportunity “to be ashed” during their lunchbreak. The ashes were blessed during the live broadcast of daily Mass at 0830am from the Archbishop’s private Oratory.
“Flash mob alert”
Following the success of various similar enterprises of Catholics just “showing up” at busy commercial shopping areas for an impromptu act of witness, Msgr Lloyd invites anyone who would like to assist, to “just turn up”! Prayer Cards will be distributed entitled “The reason for the season” explaining the meaning of Ash Wednesday and what Lent means for Christians together with the Collect from the Mass of Ash Wednesday. His Grace hopes to be joined by a few brave souls happy to share what Lent means to them with any enquirers, Christians prepared to “give an account for the hope you have in you” (cf 1 Peter 3:15) and seize this opportunity to bear witness to the Faith and heed the call for the “re-evangelisation” of Europe commended by Pope Benedict XVI. Full details are available here.
Following the example of the Ninevites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes [Joel 2:12-19 the Epistle for Ash Wednesday], our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and reminds us that life passes away on Earth. We remember this when we are told
“Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19
Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice.
The distribution of ashes comes from a ceremony of ages past. Christians who had committed grave faults performed public penance. On Ash Wednesday, the Bishop blessed the hair shirts which they were to wear during the forty days of penance, and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms from the previous year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the church because of their sins — just as Adam, the first man, was turned out of Paradise because of his disobedience. The penitents did not enter the church again until Maundy Thursday after having won reconciliation by the toil of forty days’ penance and sacramental absolution. Later, all Christians, whether public or secret penitents, came to receive ashes out of devotion. In earlier times, the distribution of ashes was followed by a penitential procession.
The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. His Divine mercy is of utmost importance during the season of Lent, and the Church calls on us to seek that mercy during the entire Lenten season with reflection, prayer and penance.