Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ashes - The Sacramental that Points to the Sacraments

Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments: they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church's intercession. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.  (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 60)
We begin Lent with ashes, a sacramental made from the burning of the blest palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday.  By the definition above, the ashes should resemble the sacraments, but which ones?

The cross of ashes on our forehead is placed exactly where the cross of oil was placed on our heads during Baptism and Confirmation. Yet, made from ashes instead of holy oil, this mark is clearly visible - a public statement that we belong to Christ.

When an adult preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation is first signed with the cross, at the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechism, it is an invisible sign, traced on their forehead by their sponsor or catechist: a foreshadowing of the cross of oil they will later receive at Easter. These are the words spoken:
Receive the cross on your forehead.
It is Christ himself who now strengthens you
with this sign of his love.
Learn to know and follow him.  
Words to remember today. The cross of Ashes is a renewed call to follow Christ, who first called us at our baptism and calls us every day of our lives to keep learning to follow him. It is the visible connection to the baptismal character of Lent that that Constitution laid out:
The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis. Hence:
a) More use is to be made of the baptismal features proper to the Lenten liturgy; some of them, which used to flourish in bygone days, are to be restored as may seem good.
b) The same is to apply to the penitential elements...   (SC 109)
So today, consider how your Ashes recall your baptismal invitation to follow Christ in everything. It began when oil was used to make that cross on your forehead...

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