Why ashes? Who hasn’t gotten that question on Ash Wednesday before? Do you feel silly when people ask you about your ashes? And is it hard to answer their questions? Having ashes on your forehead isn’t just some weird Catholic thing: it’s a tradition that finds its roots in the Old Testament. “I turned to the Lord God, to seek help, in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). When the ashes are placed on our foreheads in the sign of the Cross, it is a reminder of several things. First, it is a call to repentance: a physical sign that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, which is how the prophets used it in the Old Testament. Second, it is to remind us that God created us from the earth and when we die, we will return to it. But here’s the best part: As Pope Benedict XVI has said, “Man is dust and to dust he shall return, but dust is precious in God’s eyes because God created man, destining him to immortality.” God so loves us that, even when our bodies return to the dust, our souls are meant to live forever with him. The ashes symbolize all of this.
Not so silly anymore, is it?
(Courtesy of the USCCB)