Ash Wednesday, on February 14, 2014, marks the beginning of Lent for Catholics. The ashes received on our forehead in the shape of a cross serve as an outward sign of our sinfulness and need for penance. The ashes also symbolize our mortality, a reminder that one day we will die and our bodies will return to dust.
The tradition of receiving ashes has its origins in the Old Testament, where people who sinned performed acts of public penance. (Why Ashes? by Fr. Larry Rice) In the 11th century, it was Pope Urban II who recommended that all Catholics take part in the practice of receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday. In the 12th century, we started the custom of burning the previous year’s Palm Sunday, branches to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday.
An author for Franciscan Media put it like this, Ash Wednesday serves as our wake-up call at the beginning of Lent. It is a time to identify the things we have done wrong or wish we could change or do differently. Then we can choose to do something about them during the next 40 days of Lent. (Wearing Our Faith on Our Forehead, by Susan Hines-Brigger)
As we begin the season of Lent, let us pray that God restores us, cleansing and renewing our hearts:
Lenten Prayer for Spiritual Renewal
God, heavenly Father, look upon me and hear my prayer during this holy Season of Lent.
By the good works You inspire, help me to discipline my body and to be renewed in spirit.
Without You I can do nothing.
By Your Spirit help me to know what is right and to be eager in doing Your will.
Teach me to find new life through penance.
Keep me from sin, and help me live by Your commandment of love.
God of love, bring me back to You.
Send Your Spirit to make me strong in faith and active in good works.
May my acts of penance bring me Your forgiveness, open my heart to Your love, and prepare me for the coming feast of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Lord, during this Lenten Season, nourish me with Your Word of life and make me one with You in love and prayer.
Fill my heart with Your love and keep me faithful to the Gospel of Christ.
Give me the grace to rise above my human weakness.
Give me new life by Your Sacraments, especially the Mass.
Father, our source of life, I reach out with joy to grasp Your hand;
let me walk more readily in Your ways. Guide me in Your gentle mercy, for left to myself I cannot do Your Will.
Father of love, source of all blessings, help me to pass from my old life of sin to the new life of grace.
Prepare me for the glory of Your Kingdom.
I ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever.