What is Ash Wednesday?

ash wednesday history

Question: “What is Ash Wednesday?”

Answer:

Ash Wednesday comes from Dies Cinerum in the Roman Missal, which literarily means “Day of Ashes”, and can be found in the earliest existing copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary. The idea was initiated by the Roman Catholics somewhere around the 6th century. Though the exact origin of the initiative has not yet been verified. The ideology of marking the forehead with ashes on this particular day is speculated to have begun during the papacy of Gregory the Great (590-610).

Ash wednesday is a day that precedes the commencement of the lent. i.e the 40days fasting period and abstinence. It was originally named the Day of Ashes because on this day people get their foreheads marked with ashes in church with the sign of the cross.

In the Old Testament days, ashes were found to be of two significant uses. First, is a sign of sorrow or repentance of sin, secondly as a sign of humility or mortality.

The Christian signification of the for ashes on the liturgy of ashes on Ash-Wednesday is taken from the biblical custom of the Old Testament. Where receiving ashes on the forehead is seen as a sign and reminder of mortality and of sorrow for the repentance of sin, which was adopted by the Anglo-Saxon churches in the 10th century. It was spread abroad through all the western churches the synod of the Benevento in 1091.

Initially, the ideology of using ashes to the betoken penance was an issue of personal devotion, then it became the liturgy for reconciling public sins. The idea of the ashes on the penitent served as a motive for fellow Christians to intercede for the returning sinner and to feel sympathy for him. Afterwards, the idea of using ashes crossed into its present rite of beginning the penitential season of lent on Ash-Wednesday.

The custom of distributing Ashes to all the faithful is no doubt a devotional imitation which arose from the practices observed in the case of a public penitent. This devotional adoption, the acceptance of the sacramental, which is full of the signification of the penance (cf. the cor, contritum quasi cinis of the Dies Irae) is found to be of earlier date than assumed. It is said, as of general observance by both the faithful and clerics in the Synod Beneventum 1091. (Mansi, xx, 739). But the Anglo-Saxon homilist Aefric assumes that it applies to all the classes of men some one hundred years earlier.

The idea of putting the ‘cross’ mark on the forehead was imitated from the Spiritual seal or mark that is put on Christians after baptism. This mark is believed to be a sign that a person has been delivered from the slavery of sin and the devil and has been made the servant of Christ and of His Righteousness. (Romans 6:3-18).

This also can be said to be an adoption of the way righteousness is described in the book of revelation, where we were told about the seal on the servants of God. The indication of the sealing on the servants of God for their safety or protection in Revelation was an allusion to a passage in the book of Ezekiel where he saw the sealing on the servants of God for their safety.

And the Lord said unto him, go through the midst of the city, go through the midst of Jerusalem and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and that cry for all the abominations done in the midst thereof. And to others he said in my hearing go ye after him through the city and smite; let not your eye spare; neither have ye pity. Slay utterly old and young both maids and little children, and women, but come not near any man upon whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary. So they began at the ancient men which were before the house. Ezekiel 9:4-6.

Quiet unfortunate most modern translations unlike the one quoted above which is from the King James Version are not sufficiently literal. The literal translation says to place a tav. Tav is one of the letters gotten from the Hebrews alphabet and in the ancient Greek, it looks like the Greek letter chi. Which is a two cross line(like an “x”) which happens to also be the first letter of the word Christ in Greek Christos. The connection between the two letters tav and chi has been commented on by the Jewish Rabbis and is undoubtedly the mark the book of revelation is talking about when the servants of God are sealed in it.

Fathers of the early church took hold of the tav-chi-Christos connection and expounded on it in their lectures, seeing Ezekiel as a prophetic foreshadowing of the sealing of Christians as the servants Christ. It has also formed the basis for the practice of marking the cross sign in Catholics.

Ash Wednesday explained:

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ash wednesday
history of ash wednesday
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