One of my favorite childhood stories in the old testament is the story of Jonah and the whale. I think that I can relate to Jonah in how I sometimes (out of fear) resist God’s direction. Sometimes, I believe He has to take drastic action (with all of us) to bring us to where we need to be. For Jonah that meant being swallowed up and spat on the shores of Nineveh!
When Jonah finally obeyed God’s command and preached in the city of Nineveh, his preaching was amazingly effective. (Imagine that!) “When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes” Jonah 3:6. That’s a vivid picture, is it not?
So when did our Church start using ashes to signify the start of lent?
Historians believe that it was around the 11th century when Pope Urban II called for the general use of ashes on that day as a sign of repentance. It wasn’t until much later, however, that the term, “Ash Wednesday” was used.
In early ceremonies, men had ashes sprinkled on their heads. Women, however, had the sign of the cross made with ashes on their foreheads. Eventually, the signing with ashes in the form of a cross was used for both men and women.
Did You Know?
*In early ceremonies, men had ashes sprinkled on their heads. Women, however, had the sign of the cross made with ashes on their foreheads. Eventually, the signing with ashes in the form of a cross was used for both men and women.
*Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, however, churches seemed to be packed on Ash Wednesday just as they are for Christmas and Easter.
*This is one of two days in which Catholics fast AND abstain. We eat two small meals and one full meal. We eat no meat. The other day like this is Good Friday.
To take a fun Ash Wednesday Quiz, click this link.