By Christina Hermoso and Leslie Ann Aquino
As Catholics observe Ash Wednesday today, March 6, Church leaders reminded the faithful to repent and be sorry for their sins saying and appealed to candidates in the May 13 midterm polls not to use the Ash Wednesday observance to advance their interest.
“With ash on our foreheads, we are reminded that this life has an end – “For thou art dust, and to dust thou shall return” (Genesis 3:19).
As we remember our roots, knowing that our physical bodies will one day return to earth and our soul to God, we are called to repent,” said Balanga Bishop Ruperto C. Santos.
“Ash Wednesday, as it opens the season of Lent, is a reminder for us to have a change of heart, Placing ash from the burned palm leaves reminds us who and what we are and where we are heading. We are from God, and to God we shall return. God created us, thus we belong to Him,” Santos added.
Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) said some candidates have used religious occasions in the past for “photo opportunity.”
“This is a temptation to candidates this Lent as it provides an opportunity to be seen entering the church to show that they are pro-God because people vote for those they believe are pro-God,” he said.
“Don’t get ashes on your forehead if you are only after photo opportunities,” added Gariguez.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle asked the faithful to mark their Lenten journey with almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.
“Let us share what we have with the poor through acts of justice and charity called almsgiving. Let’s take care of our health, our hungry neighbors and creation by restraining our appetite through fasting. Let us cast on the Lord our burdens in the spirit of faith and hope through prayer,” he said in his Ash Wednesday message.
“Almsgiving, fasting and prayer will help us leave behind unnecessary bags and baggage on our Lenten journey with Jesus,” Tagle added.
“Repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15). Ash is black and it stains our faces so does sin which stains our soul. We have to be washed by the sacrament of confession. This season of Lent is the best occasion to be contrite and to go to confession. But it is not enough to confess. There should be contrition and reparation for what we have done. We correct our mistakes and vow not to commit them again,” said Santos.
The prelate called on the faithful to do works of charity and to be of service to others while still able.
“While we are still strong and healthy, let us make our life worthwhile and be of service to others. Let us do charity work. Let us speak and do good. Let us be compassionate and merciful to others. Let us repent and be reconciled with God,” Santos said.
The 40-day Lenten Season, a time of reflection and repentance, begins on 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.
During Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday (March 30), 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 but not exceeding a full meal. Those who are 14-years-old and above are also required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays for the duration of the Lenten Season.
Also called the 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.