Week of Ash Wednesday

Ashes and Spiritual Warfare

You are going to die.

It might be decades from now or it might be today, but death will find you in the end.

How did it feel to read those words? Did they make you think about your life differently?

The Church gives us ashes at the beginning of Lent to remind us of our mortality. The minister of the ashes has the option of saying "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." This sacramental is a memento mori (Latin for "remember you will die"). The Church isn't being morbid. If we forget death, we forget that the way we live our lives matters. It has temporal and eternal consequences for us, our families, other Christians, and the world around us.

The other optional exhortation the minister of ashes can use shows us what to do about our impending death: "Repent, and believe in the Gospel." We cannot avoid physical death, but by God's grace we can avoid spiritual death, i.e. mortal sin, especially dying unrepentant.

So don't become a casualty of spiritual warfare. Receive your ashes, remember that you are dust, repent, and live according to the Gospel. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

This collect prayer begins the Mass for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Jesus is calling us to "take up battle against spiritual evils." We'll explore fasting itself in a few weeks; during the week of Ash Wednesday, we're going to dig into an important set of weapons the Lord gives us to fight evil: sacramentals.

What's a sacramental? Well, if you attend Mass on Ash Wednesday, you're probably going to receive one on your forehead.