Reflection for Ash Wednesday

The holy season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. The bold mark of ash on the forehead is usual a proud ‘emblem’ many Catholics wear on this day. This mark of ash seems to have taken a life of its own, such that some people dare not miss it even if they missed the Mass! “Have you received ash?” usually dominates the ‘greeting ceremony’ when catholic neighbours or friends meet. Kids and youngsters often display and compare whose imprint of the ash was bigger. Truly, the ‘touch’ of the ash has its own unique flavour’ that awakens us to a deeper religious consciousness.

The book of Genesis narrates how man was moulded from the dust of the earth (Gen 2:7). God warned man before the fall that sin would return him to the ground from which he came (Gen 2:17, 3:19). Man is nothing without God; “take your breath, they return to clay” (Ps 146:4, 104:29). ‘The dust of the earth’ symbolizes the ‘nothingness’ that awaits man if he sins against his creature. This great symbol can now serve two intentions: first, for preventive purposes to keep man humble, that is, ‘ash’ is a gesture that reminds man that he is mere ‘dust’ without the breath of God. Secondly, for contrition, to express repentance of our sins, signalling to God that by our sins we ought to return to dust, but we want to live and implore His mercy and grace to live according to His will.

Abraham described himself as “dust and ashes” (Gen 18:27) to show how unworthy he was before God. Moses and Aaron spread ashes to bring boils on the Egyptians and humble Pharaoh (Ex 9:8-10). Ashes were used for the purification sacrifices (Num 19:6-10; Heb 9:13). Job when afflicted with suffering, sat on ashes (Job 2:8). Seeing the persecution of the Jews, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1). On receiving Jonah’s message, the King of Nineveh put on a sackcloth and sat down on ashes (Jonah 3:6). Jesus confirms the use of ashes as a symbol of repentance when he denounced the cities in which He performed most of His miracles (Mt 11:20-21).

Therefore, the ash we mark on our forehead leaves its imprint on our soul! We mark our foreheads with the dust of the earth so that we might stand humble before God, and be saved from emptiness and the nothingness it leads to. So, even when the physical mark of ash has long been washed off, our hearts carry the imprint throughout the season of Lent. Thus, let us avoid ‘rowdy’ living, but recollect our hearts in the ‘cloud of silence’ that this season brings, and carry out our actions in gentleness and kindness to avoid ‘shaking off the dust’ we marked in our hearts. There is a hidden joy that echoes from the silence of Lent as we secretly perform acts of charity, prayer and fasting. Yes, there is a rhythm of beauty that gently spreads out from the liturgical celebrations of this season. The love leaves behind is overwhelming.


Fr Jude Chinwenwa Nwachukwu, C.Ss.R
Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church,
Tedi-Muwo, Lagos.
Wednesday, February 17th, 2021.
Ash Wednesday.


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