Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, our 40-day preparation for the great feast of Easter. on Easter Sunday, we will be renewing our baptismal consecration. The forty-day period that precedes it is a kind of “retreat” that allows us to focus on the mystery that we will celebrate in Easter: our death and new life in Christ. It is more than a retreat, however, since Lent allows us to actually enter into the Pascal Mystery and allows us the opportunity to be absorbed in it.
Ash Wednesday is the formal introduction to this 40-day Discipline of Lent. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving will characterize this period; these are the three main practices of the Jews during the time of the Lord carried over to the Church. Throughout the rest of the year, we are easily distracted away from who we have become by the grace of baptism. During Lent we re-focus our attention on our status as children of God, the love that made us such, and evaluate how we have been a son or daughter of God during the rest of the year, that is, since the end of Easter last year until now.
Ash Wednesday is also the only time of the year when we see who the Christians are. They are ordinarily “invisible” to our sight. Today, we will see them marked with the sign of the cross — the mark that they have been claimed for Christ. But the sign of the cross is made with ashes, a proclamation to the whole Church that the one bearing it is still in the process of becoming what he/she has been called to be in baptism: “Owned by Christ. Handle with Care.”
(From the Homily Guide for Ash Wednesday)
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