Today is Ash Wednesday. Being a Scottish Calvinistic Presbyterian, I don’t have a lot of knowledge or experience of this Roman Catholic Ritual. However, today I’ve been doing some research on the subject for two Bible Studies that I will be leading today.
I’ve discovered that it isn’t a sacrament in the RC church, but a sacramental, which means it can be given to any penitent sinners, no matter what faith or denomination they belong to. The ashes are normally made from the burning of last year’s Palm Sunday palm leaves. The burning takes place outside of the church at the front door, and four ancient prayers are said to complete the ceremony. The priest makes the sign of the Cross on worshippers’ foreheads heads with the ashes, and the mark is not meant to be washed off until the sun goes down. From what I have discovered, it’s the equivalent of the Jewish Day of Atonement and most of the scriptures that are read come from the penitent Psalms.
Acts 26:18 ‘to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ This morning at the first of the two studies, we talked about the origins and ceremonies of Ash Wednesday. At the end of the discussion, we each wrote down on blank cards something that we regretted in our lives, and placed them in a metal a vase. After saying a prayer of confession, I set the papers alight, reducing them to smoke and ashes. It’s funny, but I felt good, as if I had unburdened myself. One of the participants remarked that the smell of smoke purified the air.
I’m not advocating that we all become RCs and apply all of their spiritual beliefs to our lives, but I will say this: there’s something about Ash Wednesday that feels right. My Calvinistic brain can’t work it out, but I can’t deny what I felt. God works in mysterious ways, and His forgiveness and grace become more mysterious to me as the years fly past.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, today is a special day for millions of people throughout the earth. As they each come to You for mercy and forgiveness, grace and absolution, may they experience Your love and acceptance. Help us this day to be merciful, gracious and forgiving, too. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.