Ordinary of the Mass
Blessing of Ashes-Mass Text
This morning we
have received one of the great sacramentals of the Church—the blessed ashes
which usher in the season of Lent, during which we will draw a little bit away
from the world, and thus a little bit closer to God.
differ from the Sacraments it two very important qualities. The seven
Sacraments were instituted by Christ while on earth, so their number is fixed.
Also, the Sacraments operate through the power of Christ—if we receive the
outward sign of the Sacrament, we unfailingly receive the Sacrament—unless
we had some positive intention not to receive it. That is why we can
baptize or even confirm an infant—for the infant has no contrary intention,
and the power of Christ operates through His minister as the water is poured
and the child is baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Ghost.”
on the other hand, are creations of Christ’s Church. They may be very
numerous, for the Church can attach a blessing to almost anything that will be
used for a good purpose. But the sacramentals are more dependant on the
prayers of the Church and the intentions of the person who receives them.
They are effective to the degree that we receive them in a humble and pious
manner, seeking to conform our wills to the theme of the Church, which they
When we read this
morning’s epistle and Gospel, we almost came away with the idea that we
shouldn’t receive the ashes! The prophet Joel tells us that we are to
“rend our hearts and not our garments.”
Our Lord tells us that we are not to “look gloomy like the hypocrites, who
disfigure their faces in order to be seen as fasting by men.”
But really, this is precisely how the sacramentals operate—they are but some
tiny symbol that is intended to impress religious fervor on our hearts.
Today that symbol is a thin wisp of ashes, which may fade even before we have
the opportunity to wash our foreheads, but hopefully will be retained in our
hearts and minds for these next forty day.
On Palm Sunday you
will not receive a blessed palm tree, but only a leaf or two to remind you of
the royalty of Christ the King, whose Last Supper, Passion, and Death will be
commemorated during that week.
A few weeks ago on
the feast of our Lord’s Presentation in the Temple, (Candlemas) we blessed
the candles that will burn on the altar for the coming year, and the little
votive candles which we may choose to light when we come to pray. But
the sign of the sacramental that we received was but a thin little wax taper,
a small token, “so that our hearts, being illumined by invisible fire, by
the radiance of the Holy Ghost, may be delivered from the blindness of all
The readings on
Candlemas were also instructive for this day. The prophet Malachy spoke
to us about the “refining fire and the fuller’s herb,” with which God
will cleanse the souls of those who are faithful to Him.
With his herb, the fuller turns the coarse and dirty wool of sheep into fit
cloth. The fire of the jeweler burns away the impurities of silver or
gold, so that only the precious metal remains, and sparkles in the light.
The ashes we
received this morning remind us of our mortality, the fleetingness of life,
and the importance of living that life in close union with the God who
sustains us in this life—and with Whom we may hope to be happy in the next.
The ashes remind us of the need to do penance for our sins and the sins
of our people. The ashes urge us to renounce the innocent pleasures of
the world, so that we may learn to renounce the not‑so‑innocent
temptations that come into everyone’s life.
customary fasting, abstinence, and prayer of Lent, I would invite you to
attend Mass as often as possible—to receive our Lord frequently in the
intimacy of Holy Communion—to stand by Him at the foot of the Cross as daily
we renew His holy Sacrifice. I invite you, also, to hear the Scriptures
read during those Masses—much of them written from the Old Testament
perspective of those who eagerly awaited the coming of Jesus Christ. And
on those days when you are unable to assist at Mass, to read what is given of
those Scriptures in your missal.
So today we have
received one of the great sacramentals. Understand what the blessed
ashes symbolize, and write their meaning on your heart. Wash them from
your foreheads so as not “to be seen fasting by men.” And go and
keep a good and holy Lent in the presence of Almighty God.