The priest scooped up a thumbfull of ashes and placed his thumb on my forehead making the sign of the cross and said " Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." The ashes symbolize the dust from which God made us.
The ashes are made from blessed palm branches, taken from the previous year's palm Sunday Mass. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented with incense. They symbolize penance and contrition.
Ash Wednesday is one of the most important holy days on the liturgical calendar. It marks the beginning of Lent, taking place 46 days before Easter Sunday. It is celebrated by millions of Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox believers.
The season of prayer, penance and fasting is my favourite Christian celebration. It is a time for reflection and soul searching, a season for improving and self-discipline. I think it is the chance for a “fresh start.”
Lent is a reminder that I am not going to be here in this moral coil forever. It is a reminder to improve, to be a better person. Lent culminates with the miracle of rebirth, the basis of my faith. It provides hope.
Even non Catholics ask me, what are you giving up? Lots of people who shun the church seem to participate. This year, I am going to try and give-up eating cheese. I love cheese, so going six weeks with out it is going to be a big test of my will. I am looking forward to getting to mass daily and saying the stations.
Lent brings back so many vivid childhood memories. The rituals In school of making making the Lenten wreath, the candles, reading in mass and saying The Stations of The Cross in church before mass. Dozens of people, every night, standing and kneeling before the stations.
Beyond the ingrained rituals, I looked forward to visiting the church with my father nearly every evening during Lent to say the stations. Those were some of the best times of my life. We got to talk, often visit Uncle Phil Hynes and have a good walk.
As I grew older, the stations and the Rosary provided a time of reflection, thankfulness and a reminder of the sacrifice others have made for me. Like a soothing meditation, Lent is an annual journey that allows me to spend some quiet time reflecting with myself and Christ.