Humble yourselves before the Lord (….) –James 4:10a
Although the phrase “Ash Wednesday” does not appear in the Bible, the liturgical use of ashes to represent penance and mourning date to the days of the Old Testament. For example, Job (42:6), Mordecai in the Book of Esther (4:10), and others in Judaism clad themselves in sackcloth and ashes to represent a profound humbling and seeking of the Almighty.
Much later, during the Middle Ages, ashes were applied to the foreheads of the faithful on what is now called Ash Wednesday. That day is the first day of Lent, the 40-day period before Easter when Christians of certain traditions deny themselves some particular worldly or physical pleasure and seek to humble themselves before God in hopes of preparing themselves spiritually for Easter. Moreover, in today’s culture that worships youth and physical beauty, the ashes are a silent reminder of our own mortality.
Each year, Roanoke Catholic commemorates Ash Wednesday and Lent. Below is an account from Ellen Vanden Eykel, campus minister.
“Yesterday, in preparation for Ash Wednesday, our students met with their prayer buddies. These are pairs/groups of older and younger students throughout the school who help us build community throughout Roanoke Catholic School. There, we prayed together for a good start to Lent and that our prayers, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent would help unite us better to Jesus and to the poor. The students also thought about what little sacrifices they could commit to making during Lent that would help them grow closer to Jesus.”
“Today we celebrated Ash Wednesday with Mass at St. Andrew’s [Cathedral]. At Mass, we were marked with ashes (made from burned palms) to mark this season. We also participated in our traditional bread and broth day. Instead of our usual lunch, we fasted and had bread and broth. The extra proceeds from the simple lunch will be donated to serve the poor in the Roanoke Valley. We also had several hours of Eucharistic Adoration in our chapel, where classes rotated through to spend quiet time in prayer, praying for the special intention of peace in Ukraine as Pope Francis has asked Catholics throughout the world to do today.”