This week, on Wednesday, Catholic and Aglipayan priests in many towns of this predominantly Christian Southeast Asian archipelago, including the cities of Manila and Makati, separately intoned before their parishioners “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
With some added guidelines from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, no thanks to the spreading COVID-19, the CBCP issued liturgical advice in a circular to reduce the risk of transmission of the coronavirus, particularly during the Holy Week.
The CBCP recommended sprinkling or dropping small portions of blessed ash on the crown of the head during the imposition of the ashes.
The CBCP also recommended against kissing or touching the Cross during the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, strongly suggesting to the public to just genuflect or make a profound bow.
In many Ilocano towns up north, like Pinili and Paoay in Ilocos Norte, the priests said “Tao, sika ket tapok, ket iti tapok agsublikanto.”
In Bayambang, Pangasinan, the Catholic priest said in Pangasinense “Tuo, sika et abo, umpawil ka ed abo.”
In Cabagan, Isabela and other Ibanag-speaking towns where the Mass was said, the priest told the faithful “Y tollay ay naggafu ta davvung ay manoli ta davvung.”
In Minglanilla, Cebu, the Catholic priest himself declared “Ikaw tao gikan ka sa abu ug mabalik ka sa abu.”
Separately, the priests echoed, in at least four regional languages, what the Benedictine priest at the Our Lady of Montserrat Abbey near Malacañang or what the parish priest at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Brookside, Cainta in Rizal said from the book of Genesis, at about the same time.
Theologians say since it is exactly 40 days (excluding Sundays) before Easter Sunday, it always falls on a Wednesday – there cannot be an “Ash Thursday” or “Ash Monday.”
Religion scholars say the Bible never mentions Ash Wednesday – fact is, it never mentions Lent.
They add Lent is intended to be a time of self-denial, moderation, fasting, and the forsaking of sinful activities and habits.
Among Catholics and Aglipayans – the Aglipayans are basically Catholics except that they confess directly to God and their priests can get married – Ash Wednesday commences the period of spiritual discipline.
Fr. Jaime Padilla, the 58-year-old parish priest of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in the gated middle-income subdivision Brookside Hills, said putting of the ash on the foreheads of the faithful “is a reminder to us that we are all human beings, of flesh, dust, and sin, and we ought to change and improve from our sinful ways.
“We ought to listen to the Lord, turn away from sin, be sorry for our sin, make sacrifices and turn to holiness instead of remaining in sin and dust… Ash Wednesday is a wake-up call for us Catholics who live our faith.”
At the start of Lent, we are reminded to do prayer, fasting and alms-giving – the three pillars of good Christian life – which should prepare us for the commemoration of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord.
But we underscore that what is important is not the outward sign of having the ashes imposed on the foreheads. It is more essential to have the cleansing of the soul, the cleansing of the person within.
Scholars say while the Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday, it does record accounts of people in the Old Testament using dust and ashes as symbols of repentance and/or mourning.
The modern tradition of rubbing a cross on a person’s forehead supposedly identifies that person with Jesus Christ.
In the predominantly Christian Philippines, which received the Cross in the 16th century following the arrival in the islands of Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, Ash Wednesday is a sacred ritual, with the priest placing ashes in a cross sign on the foreheads of the faithful.
Ash Wednesday, chased by Easter Sunday which comes at the end of 40 days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, is a movable feast, meaning it falls on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter and can occur as early as Feb 4. or as late as March 10.
As the priest, who placed the oil earlier on his forehead before presiding at the Mass or service on the congregants, rubs the ashes on the forehead of the faithful and recites the Genesis line.
Some priests whisper: “Repent, and be faithful to the Gospel.”
The ashes used are collected, after the Palm Crosses from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, are burned on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday is a solemn reminder of human mortality and the need for reconciliation with God and marks the beginning of the penitential Lenten season. It is commonly observed with ashes and fasting.
Lent is mostly observed by the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican denominations, and also by Roman Catholics. Eastern Orthodox churches observe Lent or Great Lent, during the 6 weeks or 40 days preceding Palm Sunday with fasting continuing during the Holy Week of Orthodox Easter.
While in excess of a billion Christians observe Lent each year, not all Christians do. It is observed by Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Easter Orthodox, Lutherans, and Methodists.
Whole swathes of Protestants don’t observe Lent — Baptists, Evangelicals, Pentecostalists, Latter Day Saints. (AI/MTVN)