During Ash Wednesday, a pastor or a deacon, or a designated religious member, marks a cross of ashes on our forehead as he pronounces one of the following: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”(Genesis 3:19); “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15), or “Repent and hear the Good News.”
The practice of receiving ashes dates back to the 5th century and became a widespread Christian tradition by the 11th century.
Though there was no obligatory rule by churches regarding keeping the ashes on the forehead throughout the day, some Christian leaders, like Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, recommend Christians to keep or wear their ashes cross in their forehead for the rest of the day as a public profession of their Christian faith and as an exercise of their religious freedom.
Check with your church bulletin for time schedules regarding receiving ashes.
For those unable to receive ashes in churches, check with your locality if there are “Ashes to Go” event, where clergy or a religious leader distributes ashes to Christians in designated public places such as sidewalks, city centers or malls, subway stations, student centers in colleges or universities.
Fyi: This “Ashes to Go” movement, practiced since 2007 in UK and US and elsewhere, can be an act of evangelization , according to Anglican priest Emily Mellott.
Ash Wednesday is observed by most Latin Rite Roman Catholics, along with certain Protestants, like Anglicans, Baptists, Evangelicals, Lutherans, Nazarenes, Mennonites, Methodists, and Moravian, Wesleyan churches, Metropolitan Community churches, some independent Catholiccs, Ecclesia Gnostica, and the Community of Christ.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent or Lenten season for all Christians.
A forty-day observance, before Easter (not counting Sundays) and ends on Easter Sunday, Lent reminds us, believers, of the forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness. It highlights or emphasizes the practice of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis of the Catholic Church renewed his invitation “for everyone to take part on March 2, Ash Wednesday, in a Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace in Ukraine, in order to be near to the suffering Ukranian people, to be aware that we are all brothers and sisters, and to implore God for an end to the war.”
He said his heart ached over the situation in Ukraine. “I encourage believers in a special way to dedicate themselves intensely to prayer and fasting on that day. May the Queen of Peace preserve the world from the madness of war,” he said.
“Lent is the perfect time to learn how to love again,” he said.
Most Reverend Barry C. Knestout, Bishop of Diocese of Richmond, noted, “May our Lent be a time for searching, listening, reflecting and praying.”
May love and peace reign in our hearts, in our world.
-Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk, Chesapeake and Portsmouth. Email him at email@example.com