Why is this day so called?
Because on this day the Catholic Church blesses ashes and puts them on the foreheads of the faithful, saying, "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Gen. iii. 19).
Why are the ashes blessed?
1. That all who receive them with a contrite heart may be preserved in body and soul. 2. That God may give them contrition, and pardon their sins. 3. That He may grant them all they humbly ask for, particularly the grace to do penance, and the reward promised to the truly penitent.
Why are the faithful sprinkled with ashes?
The sprinkling with ashes was always a public sign of penance; as such God enjoined it upon the Israelites (Jer. xxv. 34). David sprinkled ashes on his bread (Ps. ci. 10). The Ninivites (Jonas iii. 6), Judith (Jud. ix. 1), Mardochai (Esther iv. 1), Job (xlii. 6), and others, did penance in sack-cloth and ashes.
he Prophecy of Joel, ii. 12-19. Therefore saith the Lord: Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and mourning. And rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil. Who knoweth but he will return, and forgive, and leave a blessing behind him, sacrifice and libation to the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather together the people, sanctify the church, assemble the ancients, gather together the little ones, and them that suck at the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth from his bed, and the bride out of her bride-chamber. Between the porch and the altar the priests, the Lord's ministers, shall weep, and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare Thy people; and give not Thy inheritane to reproach, that the heathens should rule over them; why should they say among the nations: Where is their God? The Lord hath been zealons for His land, and hath spared His people: Behold I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and you shall be filled with them: and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations, saith the Lord Almighty.
The prophet, in these words, calls upon the Israelites to be converted, reminding them of the great mercy of God, and exhorting them to join true repentance for their sins with their fasting and alms. They should all, without exception, do penance and implore the mercy of God, Who would then forgive them, deliver them from their enemies, and bring peace and happiness upon them.
he Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, According to St. Luke, iii. 1-6. At that time Jesus said to His disciples: When you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father Who is in secret: and thy Father, Who seeth in secret, will repay thee. Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.
INSTRUCTION ON LENT.
What is the origin of fasting?
Under the Old Law the Jews fasted by the command of God; thus Moses fasted forty days and forty nights, on Mount Sinai, when God gave him the Ten Commandments; Elias, in like manner, fasted in the desert. Jesus also fasted, and commanded His apostles to fast also. The Catholic Church, says St. Leo, from the time of the apostles, has enjoined fasting upon all the faithful.
Why has the Church instituted the fast before Easter?
1. To imitate Jesus Christ, Who fasted forty days. 2. To participate in His merits and passion; for as Christ could only be glorified through His sufferings, so in order to belong to Him we must follow Him by a life answering to His. 3. To subject the flesh to the spirit, and thus, 4. prepare ourselves for Easter and the worthy reception of the divine Lamb. 5. Finally, to offer to God some satisfaction for our sins, and, as St. Leo says, to atone for the sins of a whole year by a short fast of the tenth part of a year.
Was the fast of Lent kept in early times as it is now?
Yes, only more rigorously; for 1. The Christians of the early ages abstained not only from flesh-meat, but from those things which are produced from flesh, such as butter, eggs, cheese, and also from wine and fish. 2. They fasted during the whole day, and ate only after vespers, that is, at night.
How shall we keep the holy season of Lent with advantage?
We should endeavor not only to deny ourselves food and drink, but, still more, all sinful gratifications. And as the body is weakened by fasting, the soul, on the other hand, should be strengthened by repeated prayers, bny frequent reception of the holy sacraments, attending Mass, spiritual reading, and good works, particularly those of charity. In such manner we shall be able, according to the intention of the Church, to supply by our fasting what we have omitted during the year, especially if we fast willingly, and with a good intention.
O Lord Jesus, I offer up to Thee my fasting and self-denial, to be united to Thy fasting and sufferings, for Thy glory, in gratitude for so many benefits received from Thee, in satisfaction for my sins and those of others, and to obtain Thy holy grace that I may overcome my sins and acquire the virtues which I need. Look upon me, O Jesus, in mercy. Amen.