Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Because You Ashed...

All About Ashes

* Lent has been observed by the Church from the very earliest days, but the tradition of using ashes on the first day of Lent only showed up some time in the 10th century.  In 1091, at the council of Benevento, Pope Urban II ordered the local custom extended to the church in Rome, and soon thereafter we find liturgical writers of the time generally referring to the day as "Feria Quarta Cinerum" (Ash Wednesday) 

* "Why ashes?" you might ask.  Ashes were used in ancient times to express grief, and are found throughout the Old Testament, as well in numerous references in the New Testament, symbolizing grief or penance. It's recorded that in the 4th century (possibly even before) penitents dressed in sackcloth and sprinkled themselves with ashes to show sorrow for sin as imposed penances.

*  And where do those ashes come from?  The actual ashes, blessed, and applied to foreheads on Ash Wednesday are created by burning the palm branches from the previous year's Palm Sunday.  

*  Why on our heads?  The head is generally considered the "seat of pride," and the smudging or sprinkling of ashes thereon, the imposition of humility, a sign of penance for our sins, and a reminder of our mortality -- implicit in the words of the priest as he applies the ashes.

*  The words.  Where did they come from? "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return." This verse can be found in Genesis 3:19:  "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return." This, of course, was God speaking to Adam and Eve.  Here's how Father says it to us on Ash Wednesday: Meménto, homo, quia pulvis es, et in púlverem revertéris.

* When the distribution of ashes was first common in western Europe, they were literally distributed-- or strewn -- over men's heads, but, because women's heads were covered, they were placed more carefully by the priest upon their foreheads.  Eventually, this became the common method among men and women. (I expect the "strewing" made rather a mess.) The common  method in most places...

* Throughout many ages of the Church, the pope on Ash Wednesday has taken part in a penitential procession from the Church of Saint Anselm to the Basilica of Santa Sabina, where, as is still the custom
in Italy and many other countries, ashes are sprinkled on top of his head, not smudged on his forehead. But not strewn, either.  He, in turn, places ashes on the heads of others in this way.

* Anyone may approach the altar on Ash Wednesday to receive ashes. Unlike its discipline regarding the Sacraments, the Church doesn't exclude anyone from receiving sacramentals, such as blessed ashes.  Non Catholics and even those not baptized may receive ashes.

Lenten Terminology

* The word "Lent" used by English speakers comes from the Old English "lencten," meaning "springtime."

*  The Latin name for Lent, Quadragesima, means forty and refers to the forty days Christ spent in the desert which is the origin of the Season.

* The Latin name Quadragesima gives rise to the words for Lent in other languages, for instance:  Spanish - cuaresma; Portuguese quaresma; French - carême; Italian - guaresima; Croatian - korizma; Irish - carghas; and Welsh - carawys.

* In German (where the word for Lent is Fastenzeit), as well as in most Slavic languages, the common name for Lent is simply a phrase meaning "fasting time." A Czech would refer to this season as postní doba or "great fast,"  someone from Poland would say wielki, and Lent would be fasten or fastetid in Norway.

*  Known as Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent marks the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday and has been so-called due to the first word in the Introit, Laetare, meaning Rejoice!  This is the Sunday when the priest wears rose color vestments signifying joy (at being half-way to Easter!).

* The fourth Sunday in Lent has traditionally been known as Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom, corresponding to the American custom of Mothers' Day (2nd Sunday in May) and originated in the sixteenth century celebration of Holy Mother Church on this half-way marker in Lent.

* The last two weeks of Lent are known as Passiontide, made up of Passion Week and Holy Week

* The sixth Sunday in Lent, known as Palm Sunday, begins Holy Week, the final week of Lent

* Wednesday of Holy Week, also called Holy Wednesday or Spy Wednesday, commemorates Judas' spying of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, before giving Him the kiss of betrayal the next day.

* Thursday in Holy Week is known as Maundy Thursday (Why it's called Maundy here) and is the day on which we remember the Last Supper, the first Mass, as it was shared by Christ with His disciples

* The last three days of Holy Week -- Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday -- are known as the Sacred Triduum.

 The Basic Specs

There are 44 days of Lent in the Roman Catholic Church, but many other churches, which celebrate Lent vary both the span of time and the beginning and end dates.
  • The Ambrosian Rite begins the Sunday after Ash Wednesday, includes all Sundays, but not Holy Thursday
  •  The Eastern Rites begin Lent on the Monday after Ash Wednesday ("Clean Monday") and include all Sundays, but ends on the Friday before Sunday and is followed by a separate and distinct period of fasting up until Easter
  • The Oriental Rites observe eight weeks of Lent in which Saturdays and Sundays are exempted (and the fasts themselves have quite different rules, as well).
* Also observing Lent among Non Catholic Christian sects: Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Calvinists, as well as some evangelical sects and Anabaptists.

What Catholics Do in Lent

* In preparation for the greatest feast of the year, Jesus' resurrection at Easter, Catholics follow a forty day program of prayer and discipline designed to fine tune their spiritual lives, distancing themselves from worldly things in order to move closer to God.  We sacrifice in Lent in union with Christ's sacrifice on Calvary.

* In the effort to distance themselves from the world, most Catholics choose to sacrifice small things voluntarily -- in addition to the fasting and abstinence required of the Church.  These little sacrifices range from giving up sweets, to abstaining from television or social media.  Going out of the way to perform charitable acts or to read spiritual books are also good ways to grow spiritually during Lent. Sometimes little penances can be devised just to elicit mindfulness of the Lenten season. One of our daughters chose to wear purple every day during Lent; one of our sons ate oatmeal for breakfast every single day (and may not have let a spoonful pass his lips since!)  But these are the voluntary mortifications, personal pacts between ourselves and God.  They're not required, not mandatory, and there is no penalty for not making your own sacrifices during Lent, and slipping up on them is a lost opportunity, not a sin (unless it's done with spite, of course). But...

 The Church, knowing human nature and how easily we slip out of doing what's good for us has, indeed, mandated some certain Lenten sacrifices for all Catholics (without impediments like ill health or age, etc.).  Like a mother who  has rules of the house, requiring her children to brush their teeth, clean their rooms, and eat healthy food, Mother Church has rules, too, ones she requires us, as Catholics to follow.  Here are the rules for Lent:

  * Fast and Abstinence

(The uniform norms for fast and abstinence adopted in 1951 by the bishops of the United States, modified at their November 1956 meeting' as observed by most traditional Catholics in our country.  All rules of fast and abstinence can be modified by a local bishop.)

Abstinence (of meat)

1. Everyone over 7 years of age is bound to observe the law of abstinence.

2. Complete abstinence is to be observed on Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday and the Vigils of the Immaculate Conception and Christmas. On days of complete abstinence, meat and soup or gravy made from meat may not be used at all.

3. Partial abstinence is to be observed on Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays and the Vigil of Pentecost. On days of partial abstinence, meat and soup or gravy made from meat may be taken only once a day at the principal meal.


1. Everyone 21 - 59 years of age is bound to observe the law of fast.

2. The days of fast are all the days in Lent except Sundays, the Ember Days and Vigils of Pentecost, the Immaculate Conception and Christmas.

3. On days of fast, only one full meal is allowed. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to one’s needs; but together they should not equal another full meal.

4. Meat may be taken at the principal meal on a day of fast except on Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the Vigils of the Immaculate Conception and Christmas.

5. Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, are allowed.

6. Where health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige. In doubt concerning fast or abstinence, a parish priest or confessor should be consulted.

* There is no obligation for fast or abstinence on a holy day of obligation, even if it falls on a Friday.

* Confession and Holy Communion

* Catholics are required to make a good Confession at least once during the Season of Lent to fulfill the precept of the Church that we go to Confession at least once a year, and having made a good Confession, we must receive the Eucharist at least once a year during Eastertide (the time between Shrove Tuesday and Pentecost).

* Shrove Tuesday, incidentally, refers to the day immediately preceding Ash Wednesday. Many of the faithful go to Confession to be "shriven," or forgiven of all sins in preparation for a pious Lent on this day.  It's not required to confess on Shrove Tuesday, though; any time during Lent and Eastertide works for making the Catholic "Easter Duty,"  

* A beautiful old custom, NOT by any means mandated by the Church has to do with with Lenten Confession: before going to see the priest for "shriving," Catholics used to bow before each member of the household (and to anyone they've sinned against), and say, "In the Name of Christ, forgive me if I've offended you." The response would have been: "God will forgive you." Note that confessing sins to a priest is a Sacrament which remits mortal and venial sins; confessing sins to those you've offended is a sacramental which does not take the place of true Confession before a priest (Auricular Confession), but is, nevertheless, good for the soul.

So, here goes:  All my reading public, friends, and family: 

 In the Name of Christ, do please forgive me if I've offended you!

By long wordy posts
By too many posts
I really am truly sorry.
I'll try to do better.
By too few posts
By quotes and facts not properly attributed or images borrowed without permission
By poor self-editing: improperly placed commas, typos, run-on sentences, fragments, & misspellings
By not always checking to be sure all my links work
By sounding like a know-it-all
By sounding like an ignoramus
By neglecting to follow up on comments
By being snarky
By posting on my kids without making sure they were OK with it first
By being so absent at my friends' blogs this year
By not always triple-checking all my facts
By anything I may have written, said or done that offended anyone --

Hope everyone was able to kick off Lent 2015 in the best way possible today and that it's a blessed and fruitful season!

No comments: