Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Ash Wednesday tomorrow has special significance to Catholics who will go through the day with a tangible reminder of this phrase on their foreheads, as will some other Christians.
According to Father Gerard Finucane, priest at St. Mary's Church in Johnson City, the marking of the cross on one's forehead is a reminder of our humanity and begins the 40-day Lenten season, although it is actually 46 days until Easter on April 8. Sundays are not counted as part of Lent because Sunday is always considered to be the joyful celebration of the Resurrection.
"Ash Wednesday is a reminder that we are humans and of our frailty as humans," Finucane said. "It reflects back to the first time we received the sign of the cross on our foreheads at baptism, and that we shall return to dust when our time on earth is over."
The Lenten season will run through Holy Thursday and has its roots back to the fourth century, when the Easter season was extended from two to 40 days with the bringing together of the three traditions of prayer, fasting and alms giving.
St. Mary's Catholic Church at 2211 E. Lakeview will hold four liturgies Wednesday, at 7 and 8:30 a.m. and 12:15 and 7 p.m. The latter is bilingual in English and Spanish. Two prayers are offered up. One is to repent of earthly matters, and the other is to receive the good news of Christ's Resurrection.
Finucane said the Easter season is the traditional time for welcoming adults into the church.
"It is a time of penitence to free us of original sin and a time for absolution," he said.
Each Friday through the Lenten season the passion and death of Christ is observed through fasting. It is also a time to give to others less favored in life.
"Alms are distributed in recognition of ourselves as original sinners in need of conversion," Finucane said.
The ashes are traditionally prepared by the burning of palm leaves from the previous year's Palm Sunday, and mixed with some olive oil as a fixative. It is traditionally not washed off until after sundown.
Historically one poured ashes over the head as a symbol of mourning, much as we wear a black armband today.
For all Christians, the 40 days of Lent commemorate the retreat of Jesus into the wilderness to prepare for his ministry.