Monday , 25 June 2018
Ash Wednesday: A reminder of  mankind’s mortality

Ash Wednesday: A reminder of mankind’s mortality

After the merriment and fanfare of the carnival, the Roman Catholic community will be seen thronging to the church to get their foreheads marked with the cross using ash, a symbol of all things earthly
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent in the Western Christian calendar. It comes the day after Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the last day of the Carnival season. However, carnival, which is celebrated by the Roman Catholic countries, is traditionally not a Christian religious festival and can be traced to a relic of pagan festivals. Austerity being the key facet of lent, people went all out and indulged in merriment in anticipation of the penance and fast that would follow.
Ash Wednesday occurs forty six days before Easter, and is a moveable fast that can fall as early as February 4 and as late as March 10. In the first instance Easter will fall on March 22 and in the second on April 25. It is interesting to know that Ash Wednesday has never occurred on the Leap Day (February 29), and will not occur as such until 2096.
According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this forty-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting or abstinence. But why is this day called Ash Wednesday? The day derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of believers as a celebration and reminder of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance. The origin of these ashes also has a lot of traditions attached. One such tradition sees palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday burned to produce the ashes.
In the Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting, abstinence from meat, and repentance—a day of contemplating one’s wrongdoings. 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 only one full meal, which may be supplemented by two smaller meals, which together should not equal a full meal. Some Catholics go beyond the minimum obligations demanded by the Church and undertake a complete fast or a bread and water fast. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of abstinence from meat (mammals and fowl), as are all Fridays during Lent. Some Catholics continue fasting throughout Lent, as was the Church’s traditional requirement, concluding only after the celebration of the Easter Vigil.
In Goa too, Christians will observe the beginning of the forty days of penance with the austere symbol of ashes which are used in today’s liturgy along with fasting and abstinence. Some will begin their repentance from this day till Easter celebrations. Many will observe very strict fasting by not partaking of meat, fish and only consuming a strictly vegetarian diet. There are others who only eat canji during lent. Many others abstain from alcohol and smoking as sacrifice. The Church had also dictated that its members observe abstinence on Fridays during Lent. However, exemption of abstinence from meat could be obtained by buying Bulas. These were decrees or mandates issued by the Pope on important or solemn occasions. Copies of the Bula were sent to Catholic churches throughout the world while the original was kept in Rome. The Bulas were available for sale and those who purchased them were conceded indulgence. When I was a child, my mother would send me to buy them from church so that we could eat meat on Fridays. However, today, this practice is obsolete.
In the Catholic Church, ashes may be given to anyone who wishes to receive them, as opposed to Catholic sacraments, which are generally reserved for church members, except in cases of grave necessity. Therefore, any family member or friend can carry the ashes home so that they can use it on others. Similarly, in other Christian denominations ashes may be received by all who profess the Christian faith and are baptised.
The ashes are blessed according to various s rites proper to each liturgical tradition, sometimes involving the use of Holy Water. In some churches, they are mixed with a small amount of water or olive oil, which serve as a fixative. In most Ash Wednesday liturgies, the Penitential psalms are read; Psalm 51 (LXX Psalm 50) is especially associated with this day. The ashes are blessed during Mass, after the homily. The blessed ashes are then marked on the faithful as a sign of conversion, penance, fasting and human mortality. The priest or minister says one or both of the following when applying the ashes:
Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.
Genesis 3:19
Repent, and believe the Gospel.
Mark 1:15
The ashes are blessed during the first mass of the day, but they may also be marked during all the masses of the day and even outside the time of mass to meet the needs of the faithful. Far from being an external act, the Church has retained the use of ashes to symbolise that attitude of internal penance to which all the baptised are called during Lent.

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