Before Christianity, The Jews used to scatter ashes on their heads and bodies while weeping and wailing over their sins, in order to purify their bodies from sins, and to remind themselves that they came from dust and to dust they will return.
The Jews used to practice this ritual before starting any fasting, in a bid to atone for their sins. Christians kept on performing this ritual, but the ashes used were taken from the olive branches burned on the Palm Sunday.
These ashes were used the next year on the first lent Monday to wipe the foreheads of the repentant fasting believers, with a cross symbol so that they begin the lent forty period with true repentance befitting their Christian faith …”Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return (genesis03/19)”.
Ash Monday is the first day of Lent ,and It is a moveable feast, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. On The Ash Monday the priest ceremonially marks with wet ashes on the worshippers’ foreheads a visible cross while saying: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return (genesis03/19)”.
Worshippers are reminded of their sinfulness and mortality and thus, implicitly, of their need to repent in time. Ash Monday (Greek: Καθαρά Δευτέρα), is also known as Clean and Pure Monday. The common term for this day, refers to the leaving behind of sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods.
Our Maronite Catholic Church is notable amongst the Eastern rites employing the use of ashes on this day. (In the Western Catholic Churches this day falls on Wednesday and accordingly it is called the “Ash Wednesday”).
Ash Monday is a Christian holy day of prayer, fasting, contemplating of transgressions and repentance. It is a reminder that we should begin Lent with good intentions, and a desire to clean our spiritual house. It is a day of strict fasting including abstinence, not only from meat, but from eggs and dairy products as well.
Liturgically, Ash Monday—and thus Lent itself—begins on the preceding (Sunday) night, at a special service called Forgiveness Vespers, which culminates with the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness, at which all present will bow down before one another and ask forgiveness. In this way, the faithful begin Lent with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love. The entire first week of Great Lent is often referred to as “Clean Week”, and it is customary to go to Confession during this week, and to clean the house thoroughly. The Holy Bible stresses the conduct of humility and not bragging for not only during the fasting period, but every day and around the clock.
It is worth mentioning that Ashes were used in ancient times to express grief. When Tamar was raped by her half-brother, “she sprinkled ashes on her head, tore her robe, and with her face buried in her hands went away crying” (2 Samuel 13:19).
Examples of the Ash practices among Jews are found in several other books of the Bible, including Numbers 19:9, 19:17, Jonah 3:6, Book of Esther 4:1, and Hebrews 9:13.
Jesus is quoted as speaking of the Ash practice in Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13: “If the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
NB: This piece was first published in 2000, Republished today with numerous changes
Below are the Maronite Church Readings On The Ash Monday
Ash Monday/You are dust, and to dust you shall return Genesis 03/03/19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return
Fasting/Lay Up Treasures in Heaven Matthew 06/1621/And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God 02 Corinthians 05/20-21/Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 02 Corinthians 06/01-07/Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;