Ash Wednesday has caused me much struggle as a Priest. I just came home from administering ashes. But, I must admit: I have a problem with the whole thing.
I mean, during the service for Ash Wednesday, we read from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. In vs. 16-18, Jesus instructs the faithful on fasting. He says:
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Then after reading that passage, we go an disfigure our faces with ashes, so we might appear to be fasting. Oh, the irony!
Ash Wednesday is totally confusing! Why in the world would we do this?
The Western Church is the only part of Christendom that celebrates an “Ash Wednesday.” The Eastern Church does not hold that custom. And, I came to Christ through Orthodoxy – by way of Rastafarianism (although baptized as an infant and confirmed Anglican as a child). So, it’s been hard for me to hold fast to Ash Wednesday without question.
And that questioning raised some interesting answers. For instance, the formalization of Ash Wednesday commemorations began with the Crusades! Tired of seeing the chivalry of Europe killing each other in various squabbles, Pope Urban II decided to shift their attention from killing each other to killing a common enemy – thereby uniting them in a shared bloodshed. They (and all European – i.e. Catholic – Society) were to repent of their infighting by wearing ashes, and part of that penance was to embark upon the Crusades! #ThatsScary
So, what does that mean for Ash Wednesday? What should we do with that commemoration?
Here’s my brief attempt to reconcile. What you say?
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