Author Topic: Ash Wednesday… why?  (Read 2601 times)

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Offline _Seraphim_

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Ash Wednesday… why?
« on: March 01, 2009, 08:32:09 PM »
Today, Cheesfare/Forgiveness Sunday, the day before Great Lent begins, the Gospel reading includes this passage:

Quote
“When you fast, don not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.  I tell you the Truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
(Matthew 6:16-18)


As I heard these words being read in the Liturgy today, I began to think about “Ash Wednesday.”  This Western practice seems to be completely against the central message of this Gospel reading.

Please understand my goal here isn’t to start a heated debate.  My curiosity simply wants some clarification as to how exactly the tradition of Ash Wednesday started.  How could such a practice develop when it directly contradicts the instruction given in the Gospel reading on the Sunday following this particular Wednesday?
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Offline Riddikulus

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Re: Ash Wednesday… why?
« Reply #1 on: March 01, 2009, 09:40:45 PM »
Today, Cheesfare/Forgiveness Sunday, the day before Great Lent begins, the Gospel reading includes this passage:

Quote
“When you fast, don not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.  I tell you the Truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
(Matthew 6:16-18)


As I heard these words being read in the Liturgy today, I began to think about “Ash Wednesday.”  This Western practice seems to be completely against the central message of this Gospel reading.

Please understand my goal here isn’t to start a heated debate.  My curiosity simply wants some clarification as to how exactly the tradition of Ash Wednesday started.  How could such a practice develop when it directly contradicts the instruction given in the Gospel reading on the Sunday following this particular Wednesday?


Clearly Christ is speaking of a particular practice of the Pharisees, when he says that some hypocrites "disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting". I have no idea what that practice might be, but before we can claim that Ash Wednesday directly contradicts the instruction given in the Gospel, we have to establish that we are comparing apples with apples. Does the placing of ashes on the forehead fall under the heading of a hypocritical display to advertise that one is fasting? Personally, I can't see that it equates. The ashes represent the fallen condition of humanity, not the fast; the ashes don't remain for Lent; and aren't reapplied at any time during the fast. 

Also I believe that this passage from Matthew is read on Ash Wednesday.

From Wiki...

Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance and it marks the beginning of Lent. Ashes were used in ancient times, according to the Bible, to express mourning. Dusting oneself with ashes was the penitent's way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults. An ancient example of one expressing one's penitence is found in Job 42:3-6. Job says to God: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (vv. 5-6, KJV) Other examples are found in several other books of the Bible including, Numbers 19:9, 19:17, Jonah 3:6, Matthew 11:21, and Luke 10:13, and Hebrews 9:13. Ezekiel 9 also speaks of a linen-clad messenger marking the forehead of the city inhabitants that have sorrow over the sins of the people. All those without the mark are destroyed.

However, some Adventists who do not celebrate Ash Wednesday say that the practice is not consistent with Scripture and is of pagan origin.[13] They usually cite Matthew 6:16–18, where Jesus gave prescriptions for fasting: "And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (NRSV) These groups argue that Jesus warned against fasting to gain favor from other people and that he also warned his followers that they should fast in private, not letting others know they were fasting. For these reasons, some Christian denominations do not endorse the practice. Others, however, point out that this very passage from Matthew is the one, not coincidentally, that is appointed by the Revised Common Lectionary to be read on Ash Wednesday. They might also clarify that the ashen Cross on the forehead does not represent the fast, but the mortal (fallen) condition of human existence. And they would refer to Jesus' words whereby he expected people to repent using sackcloth and ashes: "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes." (Luke 10:13; see also Matthew 11:21)


From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ash_Wednesday


« Last Edit: March 01, 2009, 10:05:36 PM by Riddikulus »
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Offline lubeltri

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Re: Ash Wednesday… why?
« Reply #2 on: March 01, 2009, 10:57:58 PM »
Everyone who receives ashes (in some countries they are not applied to the forehead but sprinkled over the crown of the head) on Ash Wednesday is told:

"Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris."

"Remember man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return."

Clearly the ritual is not about displaying fasting but instead a reminder of our mortality and need for repentance.

Offline SolEX01

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Re: Ash Wednesday… why?
« Reply #3 on: March 01, 2009, 11:26:08 PM »
The Byzantine Emperors received a silk purse full of ashes at his/her coronation.  Perhaps the West continued the tradition....

Offline PeterTheAleut

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Re: Ash Wednesday… why?
« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2009, 12:00:09 AM »
The Byzantine Emperors received a silk purse full of ashes at his/her coronation.  Perhaps the West continued the tradition....
???  What does this bit of speculation have to do with the OP, outside of the ashes?
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Offline SolEX01

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Re: Ash Wednesday… why?
« Reply #5 on: March 03, 2009, 01:46:28 AM »
The Byzantine Emperors received a silk purse full of ashes at his/her coronation.  Perhaps the West continued the tradition....
???  What does this bit of speculation have to do with the OP, outside of the ashes?

There is no speculation; Just a plausible explanation for why ashes are used to commemorate the start of Lent.

Offline PeterTheAleut

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Re: Ash Wednesday… why?
« Reply #6 on: March 03, 2009, 05:50:24 AM »
The Byzantine Emperors received a silk purse full of ashes at his/her coronation.  Perhaps the West continued the tradition....
???  What does this bit of speculation have to do with the OP, outside of the ashes?

There is no speculation; Just a plausible explanation for why ashes are used to commemorate the start of Lent.
Plausible explanation?  In whose imaginary world? ???

You know, rather than offer up such outlandish explanations as this, you might actually ask our resident Catholics why they use ashes to commemorate the start of Lent.  Just a thought.
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Offline Entscheidungsproblem

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Re: Ash Wednesday… why?
« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2009, 03:02:33 PM »
Ashes have tradtionally been a symbol of mortality and repentance, two things that are to be emphasised and prayed upon with the beginning of Lent.  Riddikulus and lubeltri have pretty much covered it already.  "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." (Genesis 3:19) refers to the mortality of man, while "Therefore I reprehend myself, and do penance in dust and ashes." (Jobs 42:6) refers to ashes and penance.
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Offline scamandrius

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Re: Ash Wednesday… why?
« Reply #8 on: March 03, 2009, 03:21:53 PM »
As I heard these words being read in the Liturgy today, I began to think about “Ash Wednesday.”  This Western practice seems to be completely against the central message of this Gospel reading.

Please understand my goal here isn’t to start a heated debate.  My curiosity simply wants some clarification as to how exactly the tradition of Ash Wednesday started.  How could such a practice develop when it directly contradicts the instruction given in the Gospel reading on the Sunday following this particular Wednesday?


First of all, Western Rite Churches (Orthodox and non) do not have this patricular Gospel periocope read before Lent begins.  In fact our Western Rite brothers will not begin their fast until tomorrow.  It is in no way contradictory because the ashes themselves have nothing to do with fasting.  They have everything to do with repentance which is what Great Lent is focused upon, is it not?
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Offline Ikonguru

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Re: Ash Wednesday… why?
« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2011, 10:07:49 PM »
I will mourn in sackcloth and Ashes.....
Ashes are good for drying things and are sterile. Put something wet in a sackcloth of ashes and sit it in the sun and it will dry out in three days. Some things need to be dried out quickly or even darker ash will be produced!
There is ash from burnt palm leaves then there is 'Ash' which can be brought back to life
Mix it with Olive Oil and balm your skin

Smearing ash on the body is not unique to Christianity. It is used also in Hinduism.

The ritual remains - the origin is mysterious
« Last Edit: February 02, 2011, 10:19:12 PM by Ikonguru »
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