Tomorrow we celebrate Ash Wednesday and no doubt your protestant friends are going to ask why you have a smudged cross on your forehead. Before I converted, my Catholic friends would shrug off this question with the response,” It’s just something that we do.” What an appalling answer that completely neglects the opportunity to teach someone about our Catholic faith.
So why do Catholics put ashes on their forehead?
Anyone who has read the Old Testament will notice that the ancient Hebrew culture expressed grief differently then we do today. Mourning or extreme distress was expressed by throwing ashes over one self. There are many Catholic practices that have roots in ancient Judaism.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a time when Catholic ponder the sacrifice of Christ’s death for us. It is a period of solemn contemplation. The ashes on our forehead are a sign of our mourning for our savior’s impending death. There are some Protestants who accuse Catholic of putting to much emphasis on Christ’s death. But please understand, we celebrate our savior’s triumphant resurrection not only on Easter Sunday, but every single Sunday of the year!
The ashes also represent our own human mortality. All of us, will die and be judged. This is a sobering thought. In our contemporary, feel good society we don’t want to be reminded that our existence is not always care free and that none of us are immune to the passage of time.
What a humbling reflection on our life. Some people might even say that the reminder we are mortal is depressing. But we know that ultimately, if we persevere in Christ, that we will have victory.