Many participate in Ash Wednesday, even an increasing number of Protestants, but the real question is: What does God think of it?
[Updated: 5 March 2013]
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent.
The name dies cinerum (day of ashes) which it bears in the Roman Missal is found in the earliest existing copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary and probably dates from at least the eighth century. On this day all the faithful according to ancient custom are exhorted to approach the altar before the beginning of Mass, and there the priest, dipping his thumb into ashes previously blessed, marks the forehead — or in case of clerics upon the place of the tonsure — of each the sign of the cross, saying the words: “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”
~ “Ash Wednesday”, New Advent Encyclopedia
There are several things that could be noted from the above, and I don’t wish to address them all, as many are separate subjects in themselves. However, the most interesting thing is that not only do they give a sound biblical reason for keeping Ash Wednesday, or even Lent, but in fact the Bible condemns practices that are based upon pagan holidays that were absorbed into “Christian” customs over time. If you have not yet faced it honestly, it is time to do so!
First, it should be noted that it is a “custom”. The very fact that this takes place during “mass” details whose custom it is. Nowhere in the Bible is Ash Wednesday prescribed. :Protestants supposedly broke away from the Catholic Church with the slogan sola scriptura (Scripture alone), yet did they really abandon all manmade traditions? History and the Bible tell us the answer is no.
Granted, many in the OT are pictured as wearing sackcloth and ashes, especially during times of deep repentance, national calamities or periods of mourning. Therefore, it would be easy to assume that Ash Wednesday is based upon some biblical practice. However, the very fact that Catholics label it a “custom” show that this is not necessarily the case.
The biggest problem isn’t the ashes. There certainly are other practices associated with the practice that are questionable at best. However, the larger question should be: “Should Christians Celebrate Lent?”
Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday and Easter are all tied together. Lent and Easter, however, are pagan holidays, and as such, are condemned in the Bible!
From “Lent: WWJD?”:
Having said that, looking up “pagan lent” on Google gives some interesting results. “Lent” is essentially from the same word as “lengthen” and refers to the lengthening of days. It turns out that various pagan traditions exist with purging in the spring time.
It also turns out that while “Easter” is celebrated for one day, its ancestor was “Eostur-monath”. Perhaps you’ve already guessed it, but “monath” means “month”.
God says He wants to be worshipped the way He say He is to be worshipped! We aren’t to add to or take away from His prescribed manners of worship.
28 Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the LORD thy God.
29 When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land;
30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.
31 Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.
32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
It should be crystal clear. God does not appreciate borrowing customs from pagans to use in worship of Him.
Pagan holidays have little rhyme or reason, as do their customs. What does a bunny laying eggs have to do with Christ? Since when do rabbits lay eggs, anyhow?
However, God instituted a series of holy days in which to worship Him, and they have a beautiful symbolism of His plan for humanity! They are days that look backward and forward, reinforcing His plan to set mankind free from the bonds of sin and reconcile mankind to Himself. However, it does not stop there. It shows a plan in which mankind can become part of His family and spend time with Him forever!