Ashes have been a symbol of penitence and sorrow for thousands of years. In ancient Israel, they seem to have been used in a common, “non-religious” way – those who were in mourning or expressing remorse for some action wore very plain clothes (sackcloth) and sprinkled ashes over themselves as an outward sign of their emotions.
Some parts of the church adopted this practice as a way of marking the beginning of Lent. In earliest times, ashes were sprinkled on the tops of the heads of the faithful on Ash Wednesday. This is still the method used in some Roman Catholic churches. More recently, a smudge or cross of ashes on the forehead came to be an icon of our devotion at the beginning of Lent.
This year, we are unable to gather for Ash Wednesday, and even if we could, the physical closeness required for the imposition of ashes would be risky. So instead, we are distributing ashes in small packages, one of which is enclosed with this note.
You may choose to mark yourself with them at the beginning of the day on Ash Wednesday, or during one of the services that will be broadcast on YouTube (7:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 7:00 PM), or you may choose to leave them in their bag and let them be simply a reminder of the simple and honest devotion that we are all called to renew in Lent.
May your Lent be a time of blessing.
Fr. Howell Sasser, Rector