Businesses stocking red roses and wine will be in the pinnacle of making profits. Streets are painted red from Paris in France to Rio De Janeiro in Brazil, New York in USA and to Kenya’s capital Nairobi. Such is the mood of the Valentine’s Day that is entering homestretch on February 14 which love birds cannot dare to miss.
But as love smells in the air, there is another celebration the world’s most popular personality Pope Francis is leading the world to commemorate-Ash Wednesday.
Make no mistake of being surprised when meeting a person with a dark ash crucifix mark on his or her forehead.
Ash Wednesday has a great significance to the Catholics and other evangelical churches. It is a religious practice that is marked in preparation and the beginning of the Lent period- another Catholic tradition which they consider to be prayer and fasting season ushering Easter.
While it may appear to the others just like an outward sign of honouring a ritual maintained within a church set up, the practice has deeply embedded importance to the Catholics.
An article titled “True meaning of Lent,” penned down by the “Restored Church of God” ties Ash Wednesday to the obligation to honour Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness and quotes supportive biblical verse.
“From Ash Wednesday to Easter, many solemnly mark their foreheads with ash, “fasting” (or abstaining from certain foods or physical pleasures) for 40 days.
This is done to supposedly imitate Jesus Christ’s 40-day fast in the wilderness.”
Those who observe Ash Wednesday in the warm-up to the Lent period for Easter period must contend with various sacrifices required by the church.
RCG further writes:
“Some give up smoking. Others give up chewing gum. Still others give up over-eating or cursing. People vow to give up anything, as long as it prepares them for Easter.”
Ash Wednesday draws its significance from the exaltation that the Roman Catholic church accords to Lent.
“Lent is the time before Easter during which the faithful abstain and fast in remembrance of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made on Calvary. It is a 40-day time of preparation before Easter, the memorial of the death and resurrection of Jesus.” Writes the Catholic News Agency.
But while explaining the brief history behind Ash Wednesday, Catholic Priest William Saunders writes in Catholic Culture by making reference to the biblical events. Saunders says that ash as used symbolizes morality, penance and mourning.
He cites some biblical accounts like how a rich man in the bible known as Job, who lost all his wealth cried in sackcloth and ashes.
Saunders further supports the relevance of the practice by saying that Jesus Christ approved of the tradition.
“Referring to towns that refused to repent of sin although they had witnessed the miracles and heard the good news, our Lord said, "If the miracles worked in you had taken place in Tyre and Sidon, they would have reformed in sackcloth and ashes long ago,” he writes.
But despite the attempts to explain the biblical relevance of the Ash Wednesday, there are those who have divergent view, linking it pagan roots.
A historian known as Craig Portwood writes an article titled “Ash What? The Pagan Origin of Ash Wednesday” revealing the remnants of secular practices and how they were sucked up into the church’s adorable tradition.
Portwood writes: “The practice of putting ashes on one's forehead has been known from ancient times. In the Nordic pagan religion, placing ashes above one's brow was believed to ensure the protection of the Norse god, Odin. This practice spread to Europe during the Vikings conquests. This laying on of ashes was done on Wednesday, the day named for Odin, Odin's Day.”
According to his view, there is no biblical command compelling Christians to participate of the Ash Wednesday and neither did Christ nor his apostles practice it.
Catholic Encyclopedia reveals that the practise commenced in the 8th century after Christ had resurrected. As opposed to taking Holy Communion, paying tithes and evangelizing; the bible may have not directly mentioned Ash Wednesday.Such is what sums up the mysterious Ash Wednesday.