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During our liturgy today on Ash Wednesday (a colloquial name for the Day of Ashes), the priest made an interesting point. This is not a “holy day of obligation” for Catholics. Yet, like Christmas and Easter, it is among the most attended gatherings for worship every year.
Why do you suppose that is?
This is a time for lowly repentance. The beginning of Lent, the season in which we focus on the Lord’s painful sacrifice and our regret of its necessity, is marked by ashes to remind us of death.
“From dust to dust” — we reflect on our smallness before the Creator of all things; our total dependence on Him. “Ashes to ashes” — we remember that death is the consequence of sin; that only through death to mortal desires, through complete transformation made possible by God’s own perfect sacrifice, we can be restored to life.
During this time, we do not forget the beauty, mercy, joy, and life that awaits at the end of a hard road. But to everything there is a season. This is the season for mourning; a season of reflection and preparation; a season of hunger, scarcity, and difficult sacrifices.
This draws Christians back to worship and communion?
Perhaps it is easier for prodigal children and wayward brothers to return before the celebrations begin. When one is keenly aware of the need to change, perhaps it is easier to begin again at the start of that long road. Grand celebrations are daunting for strangers. First, one must become comfortable in the family again.
The ashes today represent death but mark us for life. Like the lamb’s blood smeared above the doors of Jews in Egypt to claim them for God and tell the angel of death to pass over them, the Lamb’s cross drawn in ash on the foreheads of Christians claims them for the Lord. We are a somber sight today, but the darkness will pass and leave much to celebrate.