Ashes, rite prepare us for Lenten journey

By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – Lent will soon be upon us and with that several events will occur that are steeped in the tradition of our church. This penitential and sacred season gives us a chance to spend 40 days symbolically in the desert with the Lord.
It is a time to examine our lives in a profound way and shed ourselves of the things that turn us away from God. Lent begins with the traditional ashes of Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday, Feb. 18, is considered an unofficial holy day of obligation by Catholics. We all like to get ashes traced in a cross on our foreheads.
For some reason the ashes make us feel holy and humble simultaneously. The ashes symbolize our sinfulness and our mortality. There are two phrases that are used when the priest or minister applies the ashes: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel;” or “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
I think both are very powerful but I have always like the second one because it really emphasizes that we are mortal, we come from creation and will ultimately return to creation. The ashes remind us we are creatures and that our lives were given to us. Our true lasting home, however, is with God.
The ashes also are a witness to others of our faith in Jesus Christ and God’s message of forgivenness and mercy. It is the one time of the year when we walk around with a visible sign of our faith. The ashes on our foreheads give us an opportunity to share our faith with others.
How many of us have gotten strange looks from people in the grocery store or in the bank because we have ashes on our foreheads? This is the perfect time to share your faith in Jesus and explain ‘I’m willing to wear this sign in the world to remind me of from where I come and where I am going. And, I’ve heard the call to turn away from a life of sin and to give my life to living the Gospel of Jesus.”
During Lent, Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In addition, all Catholics 14 years old and older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent.
Another ancient liturgical tradition of Lent is the Rite of Election. This rite is held in cathedrals around the world for catechumens to be presented to the bishop by their godparents to become members of the Elect, which is the final stage before reception into the church at the Easter vigil.
This year’s rite of election will be celebrated on Sunday, Feb. 22, at 3 p.m. in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. It is suggested that the rite be held in the cathedral, which is the bishop’s church. Catechumens are on pilgrimage when they come for the rite of election and it should be presented to them by their godparents and RCIA team leaders as a spiritual growth opportunity to make this pilgrimage to the bishop’s church.
Throughout the past year, Bishop Joseph Kopacz has been visiting parishes and missions all over the diocese. The rite of election gives him a liturgical moment to have the faithful gather around him in an ancient church tradition, which dates back in some form 18 centuries.
Pastors, lay ecclesial ministers or RCIA team leaders should contact the diocesan office of worship, if they did not receive the registration form sent out in mid January.
The office may be reached by calling (601) 960-8474; or by email at
We wish you all a very blessed and reflective Lenten season. Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.