Ash Wednesday

From Handbook for Teachers of Religion in Grades 3, 4, 5 by Ellamay Horan, 1945.

Notes for Teacher Explanation

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It gets its name from the ceremony of blessing an distributing ashes which takes place on this day. The ashes are obtained by burning the palms or other green branches blessed on Palm Sunday of the preceding year.

The ceremony of the distribution of ashes was instituted for three reasons: (1) To remind us all forcibly that the holy season of Lent must be devoted to prayer, penance and mortification; (2) To fill our hearts with sentiments of humility and confusion on account of our sins; (3) To place before our eyes the thought of death. For this reason, the priest says, when placing the ashes on our foreheads: “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”

God is appeased by penance and prayer, as we see from the example of the city of Ninive which he had threatened to destroy, but which He spared when the King and the people did penance in sackcloth and ashes. There is a reference to this in the fourth prayer in the “Blessing of Ashes.”

Let us notice that in the Gospel Our Lord tells us not to be sad when we fast. We should be sad because we have sinned, but glad when we have an opportunity to do penance for our sins.

In the Gospel Our Lord also reminds us to give alms. He says: “Lay up to yourselves treasure in heaven,” and we can do this by bestowing upon the poor and needy part of what we have. Relieving the poor is a prayer and a penance and a privilege. During Lent we can fast not only from food, but we can fast with our tongues, our eyes, our ears, and our whole body.

Some things we can do to profit by the Ceremony of Ash Wednesday:

  1. Read carefully the prayers for the “Blessing of Ashes” and for the Proper of the Mass.
  2. Ask God to make us truly sorry for our sins and willing to do penance for them.
  3. On this day make a resolution to perform some act or acts of mortification every day during Lent. The following may be used for discussion:

    (a) I can make my eyes “fast” by:
    Not going to movies
    Keeping them fixed on the altar or in prayer book when in church
    Not looking around in school but studying faithfully
    Not seeing the faults of others

    (b) I can make my tongue “fast” by:
    Not being saucy
    Not replying angrily
    Not talking in church
    Not saying anything unkind to or another
    Not excusing myself
    Not blaming others 

    (c) I can make my ears “fast” by:
    Not listening to unkind and uncharitable things said of others
    Not being eager to hear myself praised
    Not insisting on tuning in on my favorite radio program when some member of the family wishes to listen to something else.

  4. Let us pray in our own words to God, asking that we may show our true sorrow for sin by bearing cheerfully and willingly whatever trials He sends us.

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