As you well, know MBS has to make up days missed due to the cold weather days we experienced in January. As to be expected, there were many opinions expressed as to when those days should be scheduled.
When I was teaching, the Diocese of Baton Rouge did not take Mardi Gras week off. We only had Monday and Tuesday off. At that time and for many years following, the Pastor of my school wanted the children in church for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Fast forward, it is now the expectation of families to have Mardi Gras Week off.
Why is it that the Pastor thought that gathering together for Ash Wednesday was so important? Mainly because he wanted students to attend Mass.
The following is a condensed version of an article by Father Michael Van that first appeared in 2008 in The Catholic Spirit. In 2017:
The imposition of ashes is a solemn ritual that signals the beginning of the holy season of Lent. The ceremony is distinctive; there is no liturgical action like it throughout the entire church year.
The ashes come from a previous Palm Sunday. The palms are burned, the ashes collected and then crushed into a fine, sooty powder and placed into bowls.
The ashes are blessed by the priest during the Ash Wednesday Mass after the homily. Then, in a Communion-like procession, people are invited to come forward, and the ashes are applied to each person’s forehead in the shape of a cross as the minister says either, “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15), the usual prayer, or “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19), the older, more traditional invocation.
Ashes symbolize two main things in the Old Testament. Ashes are equivalent to dust, and human flesh is composed of dust or clay (Genesis 2:7), and when a human corpse decomposes, it returns to dust or ash.
Ashes are an ominous sign, and we use them on Ash Wednesday to remind ourselves of our own impending deaths. Death may come sooner, or it may come later, but it will surely come. And if death is coming, we need to be prepared, and the time to prepare for death is now, and the way to prepare is to live according to God’s ways.
Ashes are a plea to God for mercy and compassion, pardon and forgiveness. Moreover, they are a public admission of guilt, an expression of sorrow for sins that have been committed, a promise to reform and a pledge to resist temptation in the future.
We, too, are sinners. When we come forward to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, we are saying that we are sorry for our sins, and that we want to use the season of Lent to correct our faults, purify our hearts, control our desires and grow in holiness so we will be prepared to celebrate Easter with great joy.
Recently one of our teachers shared that their family visited Disney World several years ago. In anticipation of the trip, they were concerned about not being able to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. Fortunate for them, a family member was able to get a vessel of ashes from their local church and on Ash Wednesday, they celebrated their own ceremony and their family was able to receive ashes. She said that as they were receiving ashes many of the other vacationers asked to receive ashes too. Receiving ashes is such a beautiful way to begin the Lenten season and poignantly reminds us that Jesus forgives us, loves us and died on the cross for our sins.
Lastly, I wanted to share my Ash Wednesday tradition with you. Many years ago I found myself traveling on Ash Wednesday. As I passed through a small Louisiana town, I noticed people entering a small Catholic Church. Remembering it was Ash Wednesday, I stopped and celebrated Mass there. Louisiana is fortunate to be home to hundreds if not thousands of Catholic Churches. Since attending that Ash Wednesday Service, I visit a different church each Ash Wednesday. By doing so, I have visited some lovely towns and beautiful churches.
So, don’t forget that Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. Where will be you receiving your ashes?