JERUSALEM – On March 2nd, 2022, Mgr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, celebrated Ash Wednesday during a Eucharistic Mass held at the Co-Cathedral of the Patriarchate.
This celebration, which is traditionally held six weeks and a half before Easter, marks the beginning of Lent. It is preceded by Shrove Tuesday, during which many Christians eat sweets, burn their previous year’s Holy Week palms to collect the ashes for the next day’s celebration et receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
The origins of Ash Wednesday can be first traced back to the Old Testament; in the Bible, ashes are traditionally associated with grief and mourning. In the Book of Job, for instance, Job repents while sitting on ashes; while in the Book of Jonah, when the prophet tells the people of Nineveh to repent, the king “steps down from his throne and takes off his royal robes, dressing himself in burlap and sitting on a heap of ashes” (Jonah 3:6). References to ashes can also be found in the New Testament, when Jesus speaks of towns that did not repent, saying “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matthew 11:21).
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a 40-day period of fasting, prayer and repentance, commemorating Jesus’ retreat into the desert and concluding with Holy Week and Easter. During the celebration, the faithful are ceremonially marked with ashes, through the shape of a cross drawn on their forehead by the priests. This ritual is first mentioned in 1095, during the Council of Clermont, under Pope Urban II. Today, most of Western Christianity follows it, but some denominations, such as the majority of the Eastern Orthodox Church, do not.
This Wednesday, the whole staff of the Latin Patriarchate as well as CCAO member organizations joined the local faithful to attend the Mass presided over by the Patriarch, in the Co-Cathedral. Concelebrating were Mgr Marcuzzo, Vicar General Emeritus, Fr. Zelasko, Vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics (St. James Vicariate), Fr. Adib Zumot, titular canon, and priests of the Latin Patriarchate.
This year, Pope Francis invited everyone to make this day a “Day of Fasting for Peace”. During his homily, the Patriarch insisted on the three things that should guide our choices during this special liturgical time: prayer, penance and charity. Prayer to give time to God, who is at the center of our lives; penance not only to ask for forgiveness, but also so that our spiritual repentance reflects on our daily lives; and charity to put others before ourselves. During this period of fasting and repent, we should be more open to the suffering of others. That is the meaning of the first sentence said by the priest, “convert yourselves”, when he applies the ashes on our foreheads. As for the second sentence, “remember that you are dust and that to dust you shall return”, which concerns everyone, even the great and the powerful, it also reminds us that God took dust to create man and to give him life; it tells us to remember who we are in front of God.
By: Cécile Leca/ lpj.org