Lent starts with ashes

Published 10:59pm Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wednesday, more specifically Ash Wednesday, will mark the first day of Lent. And as many churches and parishes across the country kick off the Lenten season — the 40 day period leading up to Easter — local churches are also gearing up with prayer, fasting and meditation.

“The [imposition of ashes] service, really is the beginning of Lent,” the Rev. Mark Watters of Christ the King CEC said. “Lent is a season of penitence and fasting. [Ash Wednesday] is a day of devotion as the Lord began his passion, working towards the resurrection.”

On Ash Wednesday, members of the clergy will impose ashes in the shape of a cross, onto the foreheads of members of their congregations in remembrance and in celebration of human mortality as well as to serve as a symbol of repentance to God.

The Rev. David Powell of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church said while many people may be familiar with seeing an ash cross on someone’s forehead, they may not actually be aware of the origin of the ashes.

“The ashes are from palm leaves that we wave on Palm Sunday,” Watters said. “They are burned and then used the following year.”

“Most people probably don’t know that,” Powell said. “You take [the palm leaves] and burn them. You crush them up, and then you sift them. Some people even mix oil with them.”

Ashes are used as a symbol of penitence, Powell said.

“In our tradition it’s customary to put ashes on the forehead as a reminder of our mortality and our dependence upon God for that,” Powell said, noting that while it is an outward reminder, that’s the primary goal. “It can serve as a witness, but that’s not its primary function. Its primary function is a reminder to yourself.”

The Rev. Watters added that the ashes are a reminder that “from dust we are and from dust we shall return.”

“We wear the ashes as a reminder to walk in humility as Christ walked a humble life,” he said. “And it’s also a reminder that our life is temporal and that our life is very precious. Life begins with God and ends with God.”

According to the gospels, Jesus spent 40 days fasting out in the desert, where he endured many  different forms of temptation. Ash Wednesday marks the start of the 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting.

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