Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Dust of Adam

For Ash Wednesday
By my friend, the editor of Touchstone, David Mills.

“When you fast,” Jesus says to us in the Sermon on the Mount, “do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear to men to be fasting. Truly, I say unto you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face; that you appear not to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place.”

So much, you might think, for the traditional imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, as practiced by many Western Christians since the early Middle Ages. In liturgical churches, the priest or pastor marks a small cross on your forehead with ashes, traditionally made by burning the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. As he does so, he tells you that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

This seems to be exactly the sort of thing Jesus rejected. After all, the point of smearing ashes on your forehead is to disfigure it in a way everyone else is bound to notice...

Yes, this is what we call a teaser, but you may read the whole article here.


poetreader said...

Thank you.
That is the best treatment of these rites that I've yet seen.


Anonymous said...

Clerics traditionally receive the ashes on the tonsure, that is to say on the crown of the head. It avoids the messy cross on the forehead. Perhaps the ashes on the crown of the head could also be given to lay people. It is certainly more discreet and in keeping with the words of Christ.

Anthony +

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Well, as you read on you see that David was drawing the reader in by making an outrageous suggestion up front. It's a writer's trick you see. He wasn't really calling for some way to be discreet about the ashes.