Jewish Journal

The ashes of Lent

by Brad A. Greenberg

February 25, 2009 | 12:54 pm

It’s Ash Wednesday, which means that reporters who write about religion but a few times a year celebrated Mass this morning and are probably still trying to figure out the meaning of the ashes. Today marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 day period of fasting that Jesus spent in the desert before returning to be crucified. (Sometimes for Jews, it seems, staying in the desert would have been better.) The ashes, smudged on the forehead as a sign of repentance, in most cases come from the palm frowns of Palm Sunday.

I’ve only celebrated Ash Wednesday twice, and I’ve never fasted for Lent—not even from Facebook—so I’m not the best person to talk about the meaning of Lent. How about MZ Hemingway, who provided us with that Kate Winslet sketch yesterday and the Bridges TV beheading Monday? Mollie and others discuss the significance of this period in an NRO symposium. She writes:

At one of my former newspaper jobs, Fat Tuesday was a huge celebration. And yet when some of us showed up the next day with ashy smudges on our foreheads, we’d politely be notified we had dirt on our faces.

Referred to throughout Scripture as a sign of sorrow, mourning, repentance, and mortality, ashes are imposed on the head as a powerful reminder that we are sinners who will die. They’re made in the sign of the cross to direct us to Jesus Christ as the way to forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life in heaven.

They shouldn’t be worn to be showy or boastful but to serve as witness. And the practice is meaningless — hypocritical, even — unless there is a corresponding repentance and change of behavior.

The rest is here.

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