Feb 17, 2010

"What Is...?" Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, originally called dies cinerum (day of ashes) is mentioned in the earliest copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary and probably dates from at least the 8th Century. One of the earliest descriptions of Ash Wednesday is found in the writings of the Anglo-Saxon abbot Aelfric (955-1020). In his Lives of the Saints, he writes, "We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast." 

Aelfric then proceeds to tell the tale of a man who refused to go to church for the ashes and was accidentally killed several days later in a boar hunt... This quotation confirms what is said in many other sources, that throughout the Middle Ages ashes were sprinkled on the head, rather than anointed on the forehead as it is common practice today.

In the typical Ash Wednesday observance, Christians are invited to the altar to receive the imposition of ashes, prior to receiving the holy Supper. The Pastor applies ashes in the shape of the cross on the forehead of each, while speaking the words, "For dust you are and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). This is of course what God spoke to Adam and Eve after they eaten of the forbidden fruit and "fallen into sin."  This was then interpreted as Adam and Eve experienced the fruit of their sin, namely death. 

Today, this  Christian practice reminds parishioners of their sinfulness and mortality and their need to repent and get right with God before it is too late. Ash Wednesday is the day after Fat Tuesday (in Christian circles) or  as we all know it...Mardi Gras.

1 comment:

Tery~Dreamwriter said...

Thanks for sharing! I love your blog and what you share ;)