The Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the Gregorian calendar, which may also be called the Day of Ashes and is a celebrated date by some elements of the Christian community.
The date is a symbol of the duty of conversion and life change, to remember the fleeting fragility of human life, subject to death. It coincides with the day after the Tuesday of Carnival and is the first of the 40 days (Lent) between that Tuesday and the Friday (Holy) before Easter Sunday.
The origin of this name is purely religious. On this day, the traditional Mass of Ashes is celebrated. The ashes used in this ritual come from burning the blessed branches on Palm Sunday the previous year. These ashes are mixed with holy water. According to tradition, the celebrant of this ceremony uses these moist ashes to signal a cross on the forehead of each believer, uttering the phrase “Remember that you are dust and that you will return to dust” or the phrase “Convert and believe in Gospel”.
On Ash Wednesday (and Good Friday) the Catholic Church advises the faithful to fast and not to eat meat. This tradition has been around for many years and aims to make the faithful take part in Jesus’ sacrifice. Just as Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross, the one who believes can also make a sacrifice, abstaining from something he likes, in this case, the flesh.
Find out more about the meaning of Christian Easter .
Ash Wednesday is not a holiday
According to federal law, Ash Wednesday is not an official holiday. However, many commercial establishments do not work, even though they are authorized to operate. Some government offices and bank branches only operate after 12 noon.
So, what is the meaning of Ash Wednesday?
God arranged everything so that nothing was endless in this life. What would be the Lord’s design in this? Every day of our lives, we have to renew a series of procedures. like sleeping, bathing, taking care of our food, etc. Everything is precarious, nothing is lasting, everything must be repeated every day. The maintenance of life itself depends on the endless beating of the heart and the continuous breathing of the lungs. The whole organism constantly repeats its operations for life to be maintained. Everything is transitory, nothing is eternal. Every child will one day become an adult and then old. Every flower that opens soon will be withered; every day that is born soon fades away; and so everything passes, everything is transitory.
You buy a new shirt and, soon, it is already beaten; you buy a new car, and soon, it will be quite shot and won by new models, and so on.
The inexorable reason for this precariousness of things is also in God’s plans. The mark of life is renewal. Everything is born, grows, lives, matures and dies. The profound reason for this very transitory reality is the daily lesson that the Lord wants to give us that this life is just a passage, an improvement, in search of a lasting, eternal and everlasting life.
In every flower that withers and in every man that dies, I feel God say to us: “Do not be attached to this transitory life. Get ready for that which is eternal, when everything will be lasting, and nothing will need to be renewed day by day. ”
It also shows us that life is in us, but it is not ours. When we see a beautiful rose wither, it is as if it is telling us that the beauty is in it, but it does not belong to it.
Yet, even with this permanent lesson that God gives us, many of us are led to live like that rich man in the parable told by Jesus. He filled up his food stores and said to his soul: “Rest, eat, drink and treat yourself” ( Lk 12,19b ); to what the Lord said to him: “Fool! Tonight they will still demand your soul from you ”(Lk 12:20).
The ephemerality of things is the most practical and constant way found by God to tell us, every moment, that what does not pass, that does not disappear, that does not die, is the good thing we do for ourselves, especially for others. The talents multiplied on a daily basis, the perfection of the soul sought in the long journey of a life of meditation, prayer and piety, these are the things that do not pass, that the wind of time does not take and that, finally, will open us the doors of eternal and definitive life, when “God will be all in all” (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).
The transience of everything that is before our eyes must convince us that we will only live this life well if we live it for others and for God. St. John Bosco said that “God made us for others”. Only love, charity, the opposite of selfishness, can lead us to understand the true dimension of life and the need for earthly ephemerality.
Ash Wednesday and the Bible
Celebrating Ash Wednesday is not a commandment of the Bible but it is an opportunity to remember some biblical truths.
Because of sin, we are all destined to die ( Romans 6:23 ). Our time on earth is short and life passes in an instant. Because of death, things in this world are transitory and we cannot put our trust in them, because they fail.
Only Jesus can save us from death. He died on the cross and rose to give us eternal life! When we repent of our sins and believe that Jesus is our savior, we receive the promise of eternal life, the victory over death ( John 3:16 ). Now we live a new life, dedicated to God, not to sin and death.
Read here: what is regret?
We often lose sight of the eternal target, and focus more on earthly things, which are fleeting. So it is good to remember our mortality from time to time. The prospect of death helps us to remember that only the things of God are eternal. Our life only makes sense when we dedicate ourselves to God. We can remember that on Ash Wednesday or any other time in life.
On the other hand, Ash Wednesday involves penance, in an attempt to “pay” for sins. This is neither possible nor necessary. No one can pay the price for their sins. That is why Jesus came into the world. On the cross, he paid the full price for all our sins! However, this does not mean that we can continue to sin, without fear or shame, when we are converted. When we sin, we must repent (decide to change our lives) and ask God for forgiveness. Thus, God forgives us and helps us to live better ( 1 John 1: 9 )
When does Lent end?
There is some debate about this, although the most commonly accepted answer is Holy Saturday or Hallelujah Saturday, the day before Easter.
Some places adopt the end of Lent on Holy Thursday, as this is the end of the liturgical season of Lent. Eastern churches believe that Lent ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday