Ash Wednesday is the first of day of the Lenten season in the Church calendar. It is 40days excluding Sundays which is not included because it is the day of the Lord’s resurrection(Lord’s day) from Easter Sunday. The number “40” is a special number in Christiandom which also correlates with the number of days Christ spent in the wilderness. This day is usually marked by Episcopal/Orthodox churches with Mass/Service. It is a solemn day not a feast hence it is WRONG to say “Happy Ash Wednesday”.
Ash gotten from burning last year’s palm fronds is usually applied on the foreheads of the faithful on this day. It signifies the following:
1. Act of mourning: in biblical Jewish practice,a sinner pours ash on his body and puts on sack Cloth to seek the forgiveness on God (Jonah 3:5-6). Likewise on this day we mourn our going away from God’s commands and seek his forgiveness. That is why the Priest/deacon when putting the ashes says the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”.
2. To remind you that the earth is not your final home:
The Priest/deacon may also say the words, “DUST YOU ARE AND DUST YOU SHALL RETURN”. This serves as a reminder not to be carried away by things of this word and to remember the things of the world to come in which you will be judged by the decisions you made here on earth.
HOW TO MAKE GOOD USE OF ASH WEDNESDAY
2. Fasting & Abstinence
3. Absolute Repentance
1. PRAYERS: Praying is the act of communicating with God. On this day make it a point of duty to communicate quietly with God like a child to a loving Father. Pray as much as possible today as that differentiates your fasting from an ordinary weight loss exercise. Seek for the forgiveness of your sins and pray for His grace to be a better Christian. A nice way to do it is to set a time and commit to it so as not to be carried by work e.g hourly or every 3 hours etc. Attending Mass/service is also a form of prayer and especially receiving the Holy communion today. Remember Jesus’ teaching on prayer as he said in Matt 6:5-8 “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues or on the street corners to be seen by everyone. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is with you in secret; and your father who sees what you do in secret will reward you. When you pray, do not use a lot of words, as the Gentiles do, for they imagine that the more they say, the more chance they have of being heard. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need, even before you ask him”.
2. FASTING AND ABSTINENCE : Fasting is a spiritual exercise that yields excellent results. On this day,it is recommended that Christians fast and pray earnestly for God’s favor and mercy. Fast according to how your spirit leads you with a time commitment at the beginning of the day e.g 6am-12pm, 6am-6pm etc. Abstaining from meat is also done on this day due to the culture of the early Christians. In those days meat was considered a very big deal and a meal without meat was considered as a poor meal. You can likewise abstain from any thing you love taking e.g Coca-Cola,malt etc till the end of the Lenten season.
NOTE: there is no such thing as fasting/abstaining from sin.
Remember also Christ teaching on Fasting in Matt 6:16-18, ‘When you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do. They neglect their appearances, so people can see they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward in full already. When you fast anoint your head and wash your face, so that other people will not know you are fasting, but only your Father who sees beyond appearances. And your Father, who sees what Is done in secret will reward you”.
3. ABSOLUTE REPENTANCE:
It is a common practice amongst some Christians to “pause” some sinful practices such as fornication, adultery, masturbation etc and resume them after the end of the Lenten season under the pretext that they are addicted to it but the truth is if you can stop it for 40days it means you are not addicted to it,you instead are continually falling into the hands of the devil. What God wants is not for you to “pause” the sin but rather you STOP the sin. Ask yourself if I die at this moment, what will stop me from beholding the face of my creator?, next is to seek forgiveness for the sin and ask God for his Grace not to sin again.
In John 8:34,Jesus says, Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin. St Paul warns us not to waste the Grace of God severally in his letters such as in Rom 6:1-2, he asked, shall we keep in sinning so that Grace may increase more abundantly?. Certainly not, if we have died in sin, how can we still go on living in it?. 2 Cor 6:1 Being God’s co-workers, we beg you, let the Grace of God which you have received not be in vain.
Remember that Faith without good works is dead, work hard to ensure you don’t slide back into immorality etc by getting married, staying away from lonely places and things that can reduce your morality. (Eph 5:3, 1 Cor 6:9, Heb 13:4, 1 Cor 6:18)
4. ALMSGIVINGLuke 19:8-9)it is the act of Giving to God by helping the poor. It can be done with money, clothes, food, shelter and help. Commit yourself to a plan for today and all through the Lenten season. This can be done on a daily basis or weekly etc, e.g you can make it a point of duty to give #50 to a beggar everyday or a pack of noodles to a nearby orphanage or volunteer in an NGO etc.
We pray to the everlasting Father to give us His Grace as we carry out this year’s Lenten Obligation and accept our humble sacrifices through his Son Jesus Christ Our Lord,Amen.
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Isaiah 58:1-12 Shout for all you are worth, raise your voice like a trumpet. Proclaim their faults to my people, their sins to the House of Jacob. They seek me day after day, they long to know my ways, like a nation that wants to act with integrity and not ignore the law of its God. They ask me for laws that are just, they long for God to draw near: ‘Why should we fast if you never see it, why do penance if you never notice?’ Look, you do business on your fast-days, you oppress all your workmen; look, you quarrel and squabble when you fast and strike the poor man with your fist. Fasting like yours today will never make your voice heard on high. Is that the sort of fast that pleases me, a truly penitential day for men? Hanging your head like a reed, lying down on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call fasting, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me – it is the Lord who speaks – to break unjust fetters and undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke, to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, to clothe the man you see to be Unclad and not turn from your own kin? Then will your light shine like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over. Your integrity will go before you and the glory of the Lord behind you. Cry, and the Lord will answer; call, and he will say, ‘I am here.’ If you do away with the yoke, the clenched fist, the wicked word, if you give your bread to the hungry, and relief to the oppressed, your light will rise in the darkness, and your shadows become like noon. The Lord will always guide you, giving you relief in desert places. He will give strength to your bones and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never run dry. You will rebuild the ancient ruins, build up on the old foundations. You will be called ‘Breach-mender’, ‘Restorer of ruined houses.’
From a letter to the Corinthians by Saint Clement, pope
Let us fix our attention on the blood of Christ and recognise how precious it is to God his Father, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to all the world.
If we review the various ages of history, we will see that in every generation the Lord has offered the opportunity of repentance to any who were willing to turn to him. When Noah preached God’s message of repentance, all who listened to him were saved. Jonah told the Ninevites they were going to be destroyed, but when they repented, their prayers gained God’s forgiveness for their sins, and they were saved, even though they were not of God’s people.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the ministers of God’s grace have spoken of repentance; indeed, the Master of the whole universe himself spoke of repentance with an oath: As I live, says the Lord, I do not wish the death of the sinner but his repentance. He added this evidence of his goodness: House of Israel, repent of your wickedness. Tell the sons of my people: If their sins should reach from earth to heaven, if they are brighter than scarlet and blacker than sackcloth, you need only turn to me with your whole heart and say, “Father,” and I will listen to you as a holy people.
In other words, God wanted all his beloved ones to have the opportunity to repent and he confirmed this desire by his own almighty will. That is why we should obey his sovereign and glorious will and prayerfully entreat his mercy and kindness. We should be suppliant before him and turn to his compassion, rejecting empty works and quarrelling and jealousy which only lead to death.
Brothers, we should be humble in mind, putting aside all arrogance, pride and foolish anger. Rather, we should act in accordance with the Scriptures, as the Holy Spirit says: The wise man must not glory in his wisdom nor the strong man in his strength nor the rich man in his riches. Rather, let him who glories glory in the Lord by seeking him and doing what is right and just. Recall especially what the Lord Jesus said when he taught gentleness and forbearance. Be merciful, he said, so that you may have mercy shown to you. Forgive, so that you may be forgiven. As you treat others, so you will be treated. As you give, so you will receive. As you judge, so you will be judged. As you are kind to others, so you will be treated kindly. The measure of your giving will be the measure of your receiving.
Let these commandments and precepts strengthen us to live in humble obedience to his sacred words. As Scripture asks: Whom shall I look upon with favour except the humble, peaceful man who trembles at my words?
Sharing then in the heritage of so many vast and glorious achievements, let us hasten toward the goal of peace, set before us from the beginning. Let us keep our eyes firmly fixed on the Father and Creator of the whole universe, and hold fast to his splendid and transcendent gifts of peace and all his blessings.