What is the meaning of Ash Wednesday?
Roman Catholic churches of the Latin Rite use this service to prepare church members to better appreciate the death and resurrection of Christ through self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial. Ashes from the burned palms of the preceding year's Palm Sunday are blessed. With these ashes, the priest marks a cross on the foreheads of worshipers, saying, "Remember, man, that dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return" (Genesis 3:19 KJV). Besides showing sorrow for their sins, those who honor Ash Wednesday add an additional meaning; the need to prepare for a holy death.
Origin of Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday has a non-Christian origin and was accepted into the beliefs of the Catholic Church at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The council also settled upon the 40-day fast period as the standard length to celebrate Lent. During this time period the goal of Constantine was to combine pagans and Christians into a peaceable unit within the Roman kingdom.
Even after the Council of Nicaea the beginning start date of Lent was still questioned. In 601 Pope Gregory moved the beginning of Lent from the fourth Sunday of the year to Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter. This changed allowed for 40 days of fasting with six Sundays counted as feast days, for a total of 46 days for Lent. Pope Gregory also instituted the tradition of marking parishioners forehead’s with ashes in the shape of a cross.
Is Ash Wednesday Mentioned in the Bible?
Ash Wednesday is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, however, from Biblical times, sprinkling oneself with ashes has been a mark of sorrow for sin. Several times the Bible mentions people repenting in dust and ashes; for example: Mordecai (Esther 4:1), Job (Job 42:6), the inhabitants of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-6), and Daniel (Daniel 9:3-4). Repentance in dust and ashes often was accompanied with fasting during Bible times.
The type of fast Jesus himself endorsed was the following, found in Matthew 6:16-18, "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
Additionally, Isaiah 58:5-7 says, "Is it a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?”
Jesus is calling His followers to avoid making a show when fasting, but rather to help those in need. He is calling Christians to think externally in avenues of service, instead of only thinking internally toward themselves. The point of that matter is this; Jesus is interested in the condition of the heart and not merely external appearances or show. As you think about your life, repentance, and fasting where is your heart?
Are you others focused or self focused? Do you desire to have true repentance and fasting as mentioned in Psalms 51 (especially verses 10-13, 17), or are your actions merely based on outward tradition?
Should Christians Celebrate Ash Wednesday?
As mentioned before, the Bible directly talks about repentance and fasting, but doesn’t mention Ash Wednesday specifically. Therefore, Christians are under no obligation to celebrate the holiday. The important fact to remember is that Christians should be ready and willing to repent, fast, and focus on God throughout the year and not just during the Lenten season.
Additionally, Ash Wednesday is not a day of holy obligation, although Roman Catholics attend Mass on this day in order to mark the beginning of the Lenten season. The churches of the Anglican Communion, as well as some other Protestant churches observe Ash Wednesday. Eastern Rite churches, however, do not observe Ash Wednesday, their Lent begins on the preceding Monday.
Ash Wednesday (Lent)
Ash Wednesday is a holiday celebrated within Western Christian denominations. It also marks the first day of Lent, which is the time between Ash Wednesday and the Easter Holiday. Christians celebrate the six weeks leading up to Easter through reflections and rituals of repentance. The observance of the holiday is thought to date back as far as the eighth century.
Since Easter Sunday doesn’t have a set date, Ash Wednesday does not have a designated date either. Generally, it is set 46 days before Easter. For this reason, Ash Wednesday can occur between February 4th and March 10th. In 2013, the holiday is set for February 13th.
Ash Wednesday is utilized to help Christians remember their faith and to find opportunities to be better humans in accordance to their religion.
The holiday is called Ash Wednesday because of an old ritual in which people covered themselves with ashes. Such customs are outlined in the Bible as far back as the Old Testament. For this reason, many churches participate in a custom in which ashes are marked in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of church-goers.
While ashes seem to be the center of the rituals of this holiday, Christians celebrate Ash Wednesday in a number of other ways, too. For example, some people give something up for the entire Lent, such as a favorite food or a bad habit in order to recognize the sacrifices of Jesus. Other people may confess sins to their preachers or take the opportunity to write them down and repent in private. Also, many people don’t eat meat derived from poultry and mammals on Ash Wednesday, a custom that is similar to that of Good Friday.
Ash Wednesday is a Christian holiday, but not all denominations observe it. The holiday is primarily observed by Roman Catholics as well as Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians and Methods. Catholics traditionally embrace the traditions of Ash Wednesday on a stricter basis. The rituals of Ash Wednesday are questioned by some, as critics point out that the Bible doesn’t outline any requirements for any such ceremonies. However, church-goers interpret certain sections of the Bible of repentance through Ash Wednesday as a way of recognizing the sacrifices of Jesus Christ.
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, refers to events of the Carnival celebration, beginning on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday (known as Shrove Tuesday). Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday", reflecting the practice of the last night of eating rich, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. Related popular practices are associated with Shrovetide celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent. In countries such as the United Kingdom, Mardi Gras is also known as Shrove Tuesday, which is derived from the word shrive, meaning "to administer the sacrament of confession to; to absolve".
What Do We Say?
As it was stated in the article, Ash Wednesday is not Biblical, it has “a non-Christian origin.” There is no scripture in the Bible that supports this practice, and therefore, we are not called to participate in this act. Jeremiah 10:2 states, “Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.”
John 5:39a. “Search the scriptures.”
Matthew 6:1: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.”
1 Corinthians 13: “Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in truth.”
Mark 7:7: “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teachings for doctrines the commandments of men.”