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Ash Wednesday: Faithful reminded of God’s enormous love for mankind

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By Christina Hermoso

As the Catholic faithful begins the observance of the 40-day season of Lent tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, a Catholic Church leader cites God’s ‘enormous love’ for mankind as the highlight of Ash Wednesday which coincides with Valentine’s Day this year.

“It is very significant and so meaningful that our Ash Wednesday this year falls on Valentine’s Day, the day of hearts, the occasion to express love. Ash Wednesday starts the season of Lent, the commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus, that is, His sacrifices, services and sufferings for our redemption as an expression of His enormous love for mankind,” Balanga Bishop Ruperto C. Santos said.

A child gets marked with ash on his forehead on Ash Wednesday at the St. Peter Parish in Quezon City. (Mark Balmores / MANILA BULLETIN)

A child gets marked with ash on his forehead on Ash Wednesday at the St. Peter Parish in Quezon City.
(Mark Balmores / MANILA BULLETIN)

“Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross are the most truthful and greatest manifestation of His love for us. Lent is love. Love is to serve rather than to be served. Love is to suffer for sake of our loved ones rather than to be the cause of their suffering. Love is to sacrifice our personal interests and personal agenda for the betterment of those whom we love. And this was how Jesus loved us and continue to love us,” added the chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines – Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People.

The prelate said Ash Wednesday invites the faithful to show his love for Jesus in return for His enormous and unwavering love.

“Ash Wednesday invites us to show our love for Jesus. We do sacrifices as we abstain from full meals and observe fasting. We serve by our almsgivings, charity work, and constant prayers. Ash Wednesday highlights Jesus’ enormous and unwavering love for us. We are created good but we turn from good to bad because of our sins and selfishness as the ash signifies, yet Jesus did not abandon nor neglect us. Even if our failures and faults dirtied our souls, with the retracing of the cross on our foreheads, Jesus reminds us we can rebuild our lives, be reconciled with the Father, and be redeemed by Jesus Himself,” Santos said.

Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s Day, the bishop said, reminds us that God is love.

“Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s Day highlights that God is love. He loves us truly and faithfully. And in return, we must love our country and our fellow Filipinos with the love of God, that is faithful and true, willing to serve and suffer,” Santos said.

The 40-day Lenten Season, a time of reflection and repentance, begins tomorrow – Ash Wednesday. In all masses across the country, priests in purple vestments – the color of penance –will mark the foreheads of the faithful with a cross from blessed ashes with the reminder: “Thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return” (Genesis 3:19) and to “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” (Mark 1:15),

The ashes from the burnt palm fronds (palaspas) from last year’s Palm Sunday observance serve as a reminder to the faithful that this holy day must be observed as a day of fasting, abstinence, prayer, reflection, and repentance.

Tomorrow and on Good Friday, which falls on March 30 this year, Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59, except those who are ill, are permitted to consume only one full meal, which may be supplemented by two smaller meals, which together, should not exceed the full meal. Those who are 14-years-old and above are also required to abstain from meat tomorrow and on all Fridays for the duration of the Lenten Season.

Also called Day of Ashes, the burning of palm fronds is traditionally done in churches Tuesday afternoon. Four ancient prayers are recited in the burning of the ashes, which are sprinkled with Holy Water and fumigated with incense. The blessed ashes are then mixed with a little oil.

Ash Wednesday recalls the 40 days and nights of Jesus’suffering, from His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane to His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. In the Holy Bible, a mark on the forehead symbolizes a person’s ownership which makes the symbol of the cross on one’s forehead a sign of “surrender to Christ.” Many retain the ashes on their foreheads until sundown as a sign of humility and complete surrender to God.

Gospel reflections will focus on Jesus’ warning against hypocrisy as well as His teachings on alms-giving, works of piety and charity, praying, and fasting which, He said, must be done with the right intentions, “not for others to see, but in secret, so that the Father who sees in secret will give His just reward.”

As the season of Lent begins, Church officials encourage the faithful to reflect, do charity work, and to go to confession for spiritual cleansing in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

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