Mass on Ash Wednesday is among the most crowded of the year, right up there with Christmas and Easter. It's funny because Ash Wednesday isn't even a holy day of obligation (a day we have to go to church) for Catholics, and yet young people and older people flock to the church in droves on this day of recollection and penance.
Why do so many people come to Mass on Ash Wednesday?
I think it has something to do with the nature of Ash Wednesday, which kicks off the whole season of Lent. During Lent, we are called to remember particularly the sufferings that Christ went through for us.
Though we should do this all days, Lent is a special time to emphasize this aspect of our faith. Its 40 days remind us of the 40 days that Christ spent in the desert before beginning his ministry. Holy Week, the week before Easter, reflects Christ's trial, passion (or suffering) and death on the cross. All this is so that we can recognize His great sacrifice for us and the triumph of His resurrection which we celebrate on Easter.
Remembering Christ's suffering during Lent is also to remind us of why the Son of God had to come down and die for us in the first place: we sinned. We messed up; over and over again we lie, we cheat, we hurt those we love the most and oftentimes even ourselves.
Ash Wednesday is the day that we recognize and admit our faults. We admit our sinfulness, beg forgiveness and prayer for God's help to reform our lives. We acknowledge that it is our sins that caused Christ to have to suffer for us on the cross to save us from the death which had deservedly earned.
This why on Ash Wednesday, the priest tells us "Remember man that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Thus in remembering His suffering through all Lent, we repent of our sinfulness which caused it and seek to reform by taking up our cross to carry alongside Him.
That's why Christians "give up" something for Lent. It can be a form carrying our cross with Christ. It can also be about removing obstacles which hinder our walk with Him (such as turning to food instead of Him). It also makes us conscious of our choices that we can sometimes forget. If we smoke 5 cigarettes a day and give it up for Lent, every craving that we say no to will remind us of Lent and the Lord's sacrifice on our behalf. Lastly, giving something up can be a penance-- a way that we make amends for past sins.
Because we acknowledge and repent of our faults, this is why so many people come to church. It's a time to start fresh, to join with the rest of us in begging forgiveness.
If you haven't been to church in over a year, for years, or have never been, Ash Wednesday is for you. Anyone and everyone is invited to receive ashes
on their forehead in the sign of the cross. It's an invitation to turn away from sin, to come back to Christ or just come to Christ. You can take your places along with the others in the house of God for Christ came to heal the wounded and call the sinners.
Good luck this Lent. Come home to Christ because he suffered for you and He wants to help you. If your at all curious, the Church welcomes you. It's not to proclaim our own righteousness, but join together to repent of our sins, for truly, the kingdom of God is at hand.Do you practice Ash Wednesday or giving anything up for Lent? What does Lent mean to you? Did this help you understand some Catholic practices you may not have been familiar with?