Following the example of the Ninivites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, the Church, for the humiliation of our pride and to remind of the sentence of death which we should suffer as the result of sin, today puts ashes on heads saying: “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return.”
It is the remains of an old ceremony. Christians who had committed grave faults were obliged to do public penance. On Ash Wednesday the Bishop blessed the hairshirts which they were to wear during the Forty Days, and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms of the previous year. Then, whilst the faithful chanted the Seven Penitential Psalms, “the penitents were turned out of the holy place because of their sins, as Adam, the first man was turned out of paradise on account of his disobedience”. They did not enter the church again until Maundy Thursday having won reconciliation by the toil of a forty day’ penance and sacramental absolution. Later on, all Christians, either public or secret penitents, came out of devotion to receive ashes.
The liturgy of today insists on a special way on fasting, the first of the three principal acts of penance.
Please join Catholics around the world today in praying and fasting for peace in Ukraine.