ASH WEDNESDAY – 2013 MEANING OF ASHES – February 13, 2013 Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
ASH WEDNESDAY – 2013
MEANING OF ASHES
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
February 13, 2013
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” That warning humbles a person. We do not think of ourselves as dust. In imaginings, we think ourselves as president of this or that bank, of no less a rank than at least of United States Senator, as coach of an athletic team, or more likely as the star player. Years ago, a movie portrayed a person as the hero of many parts. Yet the ashes on my forehead remind me that I am dust.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth learns that Lady Macbeth, currently queen, has died. He imagines that the human life is only a bit of dust, or that life is like a candle that will soon blow out, and that you and I are only shadows in a world of harsh reality.
All our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (V, v, 22-28)
The tragic figure Macbeth failed to recall the cross of Christ traced on his forehead in baptism; the ashes on his forehead should have recalled both his lowly origin and his eventual baptismal reign with Christ.
The ashes remind us of our origin. The Book of Genesis portrays this creative act. “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (2:7). And the ashes remind us of Job; after speaking with the Creator, Job realizes his own humble origin, and Job recants his pride, saying, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, /but now my eyes see you; /therefore I despise myself, / and repent in dust and ashes”(Job 42:5-6).
Ashes on our forehead remind us of the Book of Jonah. Recall that in that story, Jonah reaches Nineveh and, despite his own unwillingness, Jonah preaches to the people in that great city.
And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes (3:5-6).
Ashes on our forehead might remind us of that childhood ditty that we chanted as we went around holding hands and then falling to the ground.
Ring around the rosy
Pocket full of posies,
We all fall down.
One explanation holds that the ditty describes the fourteenth century’s Black Plague when Europe witnessed wide spread death that came upon a person suddenly and caused quick dying.
The ashes today remind us of mortality, and they remind us of eternal life in Jesus Christ. You are merciful to all, O Lord, and despise nothing that you have made…. Grant that with these ashes we take up battle against spiritual evils, and that we may rise with Christ in resurrection. Amen!