Why is Ash Wednesday important?
Why do we celebrate Ash Wednesday?
Do you ever wonder why we celebrate Ash Wednesday? I remember my Dad once commenting that Ash Wednesday would be a good plot for a sci-fi storyline: aliens come to earth on Ash Wednesday and are intimidated by people walking around with marks on their foreheads, thinking it is some amazing technology.
The importance of Lent and Ash Wednesday
Lent is the period of preparation in our faith when we anticipate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter. Jesus would not have risen from the dead if He would have not died on the cross on Good Friday. Lent is a time for us to prepare our hearts, minds, and souls for this celebration by drawing closer to Christ. The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday.
We receive ashes on Ash Wednesday to remind us that we are mortal. One day our bodies will die. By how we live our lives we decide where we want to be after we die: in Heaven with Jesus or in hell with the devils. The choice is up to us. God gave each of us free will so we can make the choice freely.
When the priest or minister traces a cross of ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday, they have a message for us. They will say a variation of, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that from dust you came and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are a visible reminder to us that our lives on earth are temporary. Earth is our temporary home, not our permanent one. The ashes remind us that we need to be looking to Heaven, not to the things of earth.
One day we will each die. Our bodies will return to dust because our bodies are temporary. It is our soul that is not temporary. The life and wellbeing of our soul is what we need to be focusing on during this life on earth so we may enjoy life in Heaven with God.
Ash Wednesday and the reminder of repentance
Another purpose of ashes on Ash Wednesday is to remind us of the importance of repentance. In the Bible, we read about people covering themselves with ashes and wearing sackcloth as signs that they were repentant for the wrongs they had done. One great example is the story of Jonah and the people of Nineveh. When Jonah told them that God would destroy their town in a few days, the people repented. As a visible sign of their repentance, they wore sackcloth and covered themselves in ashes. God recognized and accepted their true repentance and He did not destroy them.
This is what God wants for us: for us to be truly repentant, to reform our lives, and live our faith. He wants this for us because He knows this is where true happiness lies. He also knows that as humans we have a predisposition to sin. He gave us the Bible, the Church, and the sacraments to help us to draw close to Him and live our lives in a way that will lead us to Heaven. Ash Wednesday is a part of this journey. It is a yearly, visible reminder to turn from sin and to turn to God.
What is the significance of ashes on your forehead?
Fr. Mike Schmitz has a great video about Ash Wednesday. At the end of it, he talks about the meaning of the cross of ashes on our foreheads. It is a beautiful reflection. Christ’s love for us cannot be outdone. His love for us is so intense that He chose to die a very brutal death for us on the cross so we may have eternal life with Him in Heaven. The ashes remind us of our sin. The cross reminds us of Jesus’ great sacrifice for us. He wants to help us to turn from sin and turn to Him.
Be reminded on Ash Wednesday to live for Jesus every day.
God loves us beyond measure. He wants us to live with Him in Heaven one day and He put everything in place on earth for us (the Church, the Bible, and the sacraments) to help us to be able to do that. He invites us into a life of grace each day. We can call on Him to help us each day to turn from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. We can remember each day that from dust our bodies came and to dust they shall one day return. We can remember that our souls are immortal and we are made in God’s image. We have the choice to go to Heaven (or not). God will help us to get to Heaven.
On Ash Wednesday, may we say yes to God; may we remember His great sacrifice for us and know His deep love for us. May we trust in God faithfully and know He will help us to turn from sin and turn to Him each day of our lives. May we feel the ashes on our forehead as a reminder of our sin and may we look at the cross and be reminded of our salvation.
More resources for Lent
Best Lent Ever from Dynamic Catholic contains a short video and reflection for each day in Lent.
Fr. Rocky’s 40 Lenten Lessons on the Mass from Relevant Radio has a short reflection for each day in Lent.