On the day of Ash Wednesday, members of the Roman Catholic family are identified at a glance by the mark of ash on their foreheads, administered on them during the special Holy Mass held to commemorate the sacred feast.
Ash Wednesday kicks-off the Lenten season when adherents observe fasting and prayers for 40 days, in order to share in the suffering and persecution of Jesus Christ.
It is hoped that participating in the celebration with the genuineness of heart will enable faithful to relate better with God and fellow human beings, especially in the period of Lent.
This perhaps explains why so many people perceive the celebration of the Ash Wednesday Feast as one of the most significant religious events in the Catholic Church.
Commenting on what the celebration mean to her, a member of the Christian Women Organisation in the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos says , “Ash Wednesday begins the period of Lent. It is the flag off of a period of prayer. The Lenten observances are not easy but with God on our side, anything that we are expected to do, will can do them all”.
Another Catholic member, Alice who is from Benue State but works in Lagos Island narrated her Ash Wednesday experience saying, “We went to church and received the Ash. The priest gave us a sign of the cross on our foreheads with the ash. We did not eat meat from morning to night”, she said happily.
To yet another ardent Catholic member, Malachy Ugwo, a veteran journalist from Anambra State but resides in Lagos State, “It can’t be business as usual. Every Christian should be able to turn a new page”, he insists.
The Ash used in celebrating Ash Wednesday is derived from burning the palm leaves used in marking Palm Sunday of previous year. So members of the different Catholic churches are usually asked to return their dried palm leaves which had been preserved as sacred material.
But beyond the festivity and what it represents, the day has its dos and don’ts. For instance, while fasting from food is made compulsory for those who are medically fit and of age, meat consumption is totally avoided.
Archbishop Adewale Martins of Lagos Catholic Archdiocese speaks
His Grace Adewale Martins, of Lagos Archdiocese says Lent should be a time for people to embrace positive attitude and shun vices, including corruption for a more peaceful and progressive society.
Archbishop Martins points out that although the season involves high level of spirituality and denial, it is a period of joy because of the abundance of grace available for the people of God.
“The season of Lent calls us to a change of heart, to new way of relating with God and with one another”, said Archbishop Martins.
Contributing, former Director Social Communications in the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Monsignor Gabriel Osu says the administration of Ash is a sign of repentance and a reminder on the mortality of man.
“Ash Wednesday is so sacred. It is the beginning of fasting for forty days, preparation for the suffering dead of our Lord Jesus Christ. Catholics anywhere in the world, you must see the mark of the cross on their foreheads. The priest makes the sign and says the prayer -remember you are dust ,to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel. It is a time turning back to God”
Monsignor Osu emphasises that it is not enough to abstain from food and meat, but the money that could have been spent on those items should be donated to the poor.
He further explains that for a rewarding lent, christians are expected to draw closer to God through constant prayer, avoiding sin and being at peace with fellow human beings.
According to Monsignor Osu, because of the importance of Ash Wednesday, its celebration takes preeminence over any other events that fall in that day.
It will be recalled that in 2018, Valentine Day Celebration was shifted either backward or forward in Catholic parishes within Lagos Archdiocese because it coincided with Ash Wednesday.
Celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass,the Parish Priest of Saint Monica’s Catholic Church,Maza-Maza in Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State, Reverend Father Charles Unachukwu encouraged faithful to take advantage of the Lenten season which started with the Ash Wednesday celebration to increase their delivery of alms and goodwill to the poor and needy in the society.
Father Unachukwu reiterated that Lenten is an important period in the liturgical calendar, when adherents are obliged to fast and pray, as well as give alms to the needy.
According to Father Unachukwu, failure to engage in charity this period will amount to saving for future spending, which is against the tradition of Lenten fast.
The priest also encouraged faithful to make efforts to fast from sin as that is necessary to make the holy season more rewarding.
Ash Wednesday ushers in a different mode of worship characterized by sober and solemn atmosphere with alleluia banned until the end of Lent on Easter Sunday, even as the beating of drums, dancing and clapping may be prohibited in most cases.
As christians in Nigeria, particularly Catholics begin their annual Lenten observances , it will be in their good interest to heed the advice of their spiritual directors, by not only seeking God through prayers and abstenance ,but also finding ways of positively affecting their fellow human beings regardless of ethnic or religious background.
Respondents believe that is one excellent way that Lent will be said to have achieved it’s purpose in the lives of God’s people.
Report compiled by Bro. Innocent Onoh-Young Minister in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Lagos Archdiocese.