Today is Sexagesimus Sunday. Ash Wednesday is but a week and a half away.
“Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”
I am sure you are making your plans for your Lenten practices. No, really… I’m sure you are.
Your Lent may begin with going to Mass on Ash Wednesday, depending on your schedule and inclinations. Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation. It is a day of fasting and abstinence for those who are bound by law.
People who can’t go to Holy Communion will often go to Mass on Ash Wednesday because they can go forward and receive ashes.
Lay people generally receive on the forehead. Latin Church clerics traditionally received them on the place of their clerical tonsure. This is why on Ash Wednesday, if you watch the broadcast from Rome of the Holy Father going to the Station Church Santa Sabina, you will see the cardinal usually put ashes on top of the Pope’s head rather than on his forehead.
Where do these ashes come from?
I think you can probably buy them from religious good stores these days, but the true source is the burning of the previous year’s palms (or olive) from Palm Sunday.
ACTION ITEM: If you have old palms, you might consider finding out from the parish priest if he is going to burn palms and prepare ashes for the Dies cinerum, Ash Wednesday. If he is going to do this, find out if you can bring your old palms to him.
The older, traditional four prayers for blessing ashes are ancient and powerful.
Almighty and everlasting God, spare those who are penitent, be merciful to those who implore Thee; and vouchsafe to send Thy holy Angel from heaven, to bless + and sancti+fy these ashes, that they may be a wholesome remedy to all who humbly implore Thy holy Name, and who accuse themselves, conscious of their sins, deploring their misdeeds before Thy divine mercy, or humbly and earnestly beseeching Thy sovereign goodness: and grant through the invocation of Thy most holy Name that whosoever shall be sprinkled with them for the remission of their sins may receive both health of body and safety of soul. Through Christ our Lord.
The business of blessing ashes, which will soon come into physical contact with the people present, is a serious affair. It is of such importance that the first thing the priest does is invoke the help of an angel!
I will deal more with ashes in the days before Ash Wednesday. In the meantime I wanted to put idea to you: perhaps you could bring your palms to be burned if that is the way your parish does things.