The sacred season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, a day when we stress our nothingness and sinfulness, a day when we stress deeds to atone for our sinfulness and to show the genuineness of our repentance.
The imposition of ashes stresses our nothingness and sinfulness. Both formulas for the imposition of ashes say this: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” and “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
The Gospel reading tells us of the key practices for Lent to show our sincere sorrow and repentance for our sinfulness: almsgiving and good works, prayer, fasting and abnegation.
First, Lent invites us to be more generous to those in need, to give something extra to the poor. Many dioceses and parishes have special collections for this purpose.
Secondly, we are reminded to be more prayerful during Lent. Many attend many weekday Masses during Lent. The Stations of the Cross are a special devotion during Lent. Many go on retreats or recollections to deepen their spiritual life.
Thirdly, fasting is strongly encouraged. The prophet Isaiah extends the true meaning of fasting: “Is fasting merely bowing down one’s head, and making use of sackcloth and ashes? … See the fast that pleases me: breaking the fetters of injustice and unfastening the thongs of the yoke, setting the oppressed free an breaking every yoke. Fast by sharing your food with the hungry, bring to your house the homeless, clothe the man you see naked and do not turn away from your own kin.” (Is 58: Sb, 6- 7)
All these we do, not to be seen or to impress others, but to honor our Father and as penance for our sins and for the sufferings of Christ caused by sin.
We pray the Prayer over the Offerings for Ash Wednesday, “As we solemnly offer the annual sacrifice for the beginning of Lent, we entreat you, 0 Lord, that, through works of penance and charity, we may turn away from harmful pleasures and, cleansed from our sins, may become worthy to celebrate devoutly the Passion of your Son.”