Gospel Reflection for Ash Wednesday, 2021 -- Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
In light of today’s Gospel reading, and as a convert to the Catholic form of Christianity, I often, in the past, had a bit of cognitive dissonance with the act of marking our foreheads with a dark black, highly visible cross. Isn’t this in direct contradiction to the words of Christ in today’s Gospel? “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them...” In fact, Jesus, more than once chastised the Jewish leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees for their prideful displays of public piety.
But, is this what we’re doing today, on Ash Wednesday — the first day of Lent?
Yes, today marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and abstinence. It has also been known as the "Day of Ashes," so-called, as I mentioned above because on this day at churches around the world the faithful traditionally have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross. Though, I fear that this tradition is being modified due to unscientific fears caused by the pandemic.
Today, have no such concerns. As we bless and apply the Ashes, we do this as a corporate act of contrition and mourning for our individual sins, and the sins of the whole world. If we’re doing this as the Body of Christ, the Church, where is the pride? Rather, this becomes a communal act of sorrow and humility.
The name 'Day of Ashes' comes from "Dies Cinerum" in the Roman Missal and is found in the earliest existing copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary. The concept originated by the Catholics in Rome, sometime in the 6th century. The custom of marking the head with ashes is said to have originated during the papacy of Gregory the Great (590-604).
The custom of using ashes was an Old Testament practice, and was used for two purposes: as a sign of humility and mortality; and as a sign of sorrow and repentance for sin. The Christian connotation for ashes in the liturgy of Ash Wednesday has also been tak