By Christina Hermoso
As millions of Roman Catholics observe Ash Wednesday on February 26, a Catholic Church leader reminded the faithful that the observance, which ushers in the 40-day season of Lent, is a reminder of our roots, that we all came from God.
“Ash Wednesday reminds us of our roots. We all came from God. God created us from dust, and one day, to dust we shall return. And on our return, we will reside with God. We go home to God, in Heaven,” said Balanga Bishop Ruperto C. Santos.
Santos said, Ash Wednesday also serves as a reminder that nothing in this life is permanent, that nothing lasts forever.
“Our life has an end, and so does everything else. Power and position do not last forever. There is always an end of tenure. Effectiveness expires. Beauty fades. Health deteriorates. Popularity wanes. Ash Wednesday reminds us of the reality that everyone and everything could turn dark, black, and gloomy. There is dust, death. But there is God. We return to God. And He would welcome us back,” the prelate said.
Santos called on the faithful to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent the proper way – by sharing, making sacrifices, and by serving others.
“As Ash Wednesday reminds us of our roots-dust, death, and our journey back to God, it also requires from us three imperatives so that we can bear lasting fruits. These are: to share, to make sacrifices, and to serve others,” he said.
“This season of Lent and even beyond, learn to share. Be charitable and give alms. To share is to give and to return to God the blessings that we receive from Him. Remember, the more we have, the more we need to share,” the bishop said.
“Fasting and abstinence are sacrifices that we do during Lent. It is our self-denial. To sacrifice means to put God first in our lives, our neighbors second, and ourselves last. We set aside our personal interests for what is best and beneficial to others,” the Church leader said.
“Lastly, let us serve others. To serve is to save. It is to fulfill and follow God’s commandments. We do everything to protect and promote life. To serve is not to lead others to shame, scandal, and sin. To serve is to share what we have unselfishly,” Santos stressed.
The 40-day Lenten season, a time of reflection and repentance begins tomorrow – Ash Wednesday. In all masses across the country, priests in purple vestments – the color of penance –traditionally mark the foreheads of the faithful with a cross from blessed ashes with the reminder: “Thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return” (Genesis 3:19) and to “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).
As a precautionary measure against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), however, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has released a guideline for priests to just sprinkle the blessed dust on the crown of the head to avoid contact. Some dioceses, however, will continue with the old tradition of imposing the ashes on the forehead such as the Diocese of Boac in Marinduque.
The ashes from the burnt palm fronds (palaspas) from last year’s Palm Sunday observance serve as a reminder to the faithful that this holy day must be observed as a day of fasting, abstinence, prayer, reflection, and repentance.
Tomorrow and on Good Friday, which falls on April 10 this year, Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59, except those who are ill, are permitted to consume only one full meal, which may be supplemented by two smaller meals, which together, should not exceed the full meal. Those who are 14-years-old and above are also required to abstain from meat tomorrow and on all Fridays for the duration of the Lenten season.
Also called Day of Ashes, the burning of palm fronds is traditionally done in churches Tuesday afternoon. Four ancient prayers are recited in the burning of the ashes, which are sprinkled with Holy Water and fumigated with incense. The blessed ashes are then mixed with a little oil.
Ash Wednesday recalls the 40 days and nights of Jesus’ suffering, from His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane to His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. In the Holy Bible, a mark on the forehead symbolizes a person’s ownership which makes the symbol of the cross on one’s forehead a sign of “surrender to Christ.” Many retain the ashes on their foreheads until sundown as a sign of humility and complete surrender to God.
Gospel reflections will focus on Jesus’ warning against hypocrisy as well as His teachings on alms-giving, works of piety and charity, praying, and fasting which, He said, must be done with the right intentions, “not for others to see, but in secret, so that the Father who sees in secret will give His just reward.”
As the season of Lent begins, Church officials encourage the faithful to reflect, do charity work, and to go to confession for spiritual cleansing in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.