Fr. Leonard Goffine's
The Church's Year
is this day thus named?
Because on this day the Church
blesses ashes, and places them on the heads of her faithful children,
saying: "Remember man, thou art dust, and unto dust thou shaft
is this done?
St. Charles Borromeo gives
us the following reasons for this practice: that the faithful may
be moved to sincere humility of heart; that the heavenly blessing
may descend upon them, by which they, being really penitent, will
weep with their whole soul for their sins, remembering how earth
was cursed because of sin, and that we have all to return to dust;
that strength to do true penance may be given the body, and that
our soul may be endowed with divine grace to persevere in penance.
With such thoughts let the
ashes be put upon your head, while you ask in all humility and with
a contrite heart, for Godís mercy and grace.
the practice of putting ashes upon our heads pleasing to God?
It is, for God Himself commanded
the Israelites to put ashes on their heads for a sign of repentance.
(Jer. XXV. 34.) Thus did David (Ps, CI. 10.) who even strewed ashes
on his bread; the Ninivites, (Jonas III. 5.) Judith, (Jud, IX. 1.)
Mardochai, (Esth. IV 1.) Job, (JobXLII. 6.) etc. The Christians
of the earliest times followed this practice as often as they did
public penance for their sins.
from this day until the end of Lent are the altars draped in violet?
Because, as has been already
said, the holy season of Lent is a time of sorrow and penance for
sin, and the Church desires externally to demonstrate by the violet
with which she drapes the altar, by the violet vestments worn by
the priests, and by the cessation of the organ and festive singing,
that we in quiet mourning are bewailing our sins; and to still further
impress the spirit of penance upon us, there is usually only a simple
crucifix or a picture of Christ's passion, left visible upon the
altar, and devoutly meditating upon it, the heart is mostly prepared
In the Introit of this day's
Mass the Church uses the following words to make known her zeal
for penance, and to move
God to mercy: Thou hast mercy upon all, O Lord, and hatest none
of the things which Thou hast made, winking at the sins of men for
the sake of repentance, and sparing them; for thou art the Lord
our God. (Wisd. XI. 24. 25.) Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy
on me; for my soul trusteth in thee. (Ps. LVI. 2.) Glory be to the
Grant to thy faithful, O Lord, that they may begin the venerable
solemnities of fasting with suitable piety, and perform them with
tranquil devotion. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, etc.
(Joel II. 12-19) Thus with the Lord: Be converted to me with all
your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning. And rend
your hearts and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God;
for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and
ready to repent of the evil. Who knoweth but he will return, and
forgive, anal leave a blessing behind him, sacrifice and libation
to the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Sion: sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly; gather together the people; sanctify the
Church; assemble the ancients; gather together the little ones,
and them that suck at the breasts; let the bridegroom go forth from
his bed, and the bride out of her bride-chamber. Between the porch
and the altar the priests, the Lord's ministers, shall weep; and
shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people; and give not thine inheritance
to reproach, that the heathens should rule over them. Why should
they say among the nations: Where is their God? The Lord hath been
zealous for his land, and hath spared his people. And the Lord answered,
and said to his people: Behold, I will send you corn, and wine,
and oil, and you shall be filled with them; and I will no more make
you a reproach among the nations, with the Lord Almighty.
The Prophet Joel exhorts the Jews to sorrow and penance for their
sins, that they evade the expected judgment to be sent by God upon
the city of Jerusalem. He required of them to show their repentance
not merely by rending their garments, a sign of mourning with the
Jews, but by a truly contrite heart. The Church wishes us to see
plainly from this lesson of the prophet what qualities our penance
should possess, if we desire reconciliation with God, forgiveness
of our sins, and deliverance at the Last Day, which qualities are
not merely abstinence from food and amusements, but the practice
of real mortification of our evil inclinations, thus becoming with
our whole heart converted to God.
(Matt. VI. 16-21) At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: When
you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their
faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you,
they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint
thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear not to men to fast,
but to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in
secret will repay thee. Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth,
where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through
and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither
the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through
nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.
†Jesus forbids us to seek the praises of men when
performing good works, (fasting is a good work,) and still worse
it would be to do good as the Pharisees, through hypocrisy. He also
warns us against avarice and the desire for temporal riches, urging
us to employ our temporal goods, in giving alms, and doing works
of charity, thus laying up treasures in heaven, which are there
rewarded and will last there forever. "What folly", says
St. Chrysostom, "to leave our goods where we cannot stay, instead
of sending them before us where we are going to heaven!"'