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What the Ashes Say


The season of Lent is upon us. In a series entitled "Agenda for Lent", Gerard Moloney CSsR writes in the Redemptorist publication Soul Space about Lent as a statement of faith.

“Not very long ago, especially in Catholic countries like Ireland, it would have been impossible to not know when Ash Wednesday had come around. Almost everyone wore ashes, often the darker and more prominent the better. People were happy to wear them as they went about their business, going to work or to the shops. They wore them as a sign of faith and penance.

Sadly, that is no longer the case, and fewer people wear the ashes than even a decade ago. That is a pity because the little ceremony of the ashes is a beautiful and powerful ritual that eloquently describes what Lent is all about, indeed what life is all about for people of faith: dust and a cross. Our foreheads are marked with dust in the form of a cross. There are several formulae that can be used when the ashes are applied. One of the most common says simply: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return”.

When the dust is placed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, it is done very deliberately in the shape of the cross. The symbol of the cross reminds us that we are redeemed people. Yes, we will die one day, we will encounter setbacks and pain and loss, we remain dust, but the sign of the cross is a statement that death is not the end of our dust. The Son of God took on flesh like ours, and became dust on a cross to save us from sin and bring us to salvation. The cross is the symbol of our redemption.

Dust and a cross tell us Christians all we need to know.”