Saint Louis University

Fr. Dan White, S.J.



February 7, 2016

Ash Wednesday may well be the Church’s best attended liturgical celebration besides Christmas and Easter. Parishes all over the world are packed with people. However, it is not just during church. When I was pastor in Belize, folks who could not get to mass would stop by the parish office all day on Ash Wednesday to receive ashes.

What is the appeal? One reason is the visible sign of being marked with ashes. Such a prominent and physical symbol resonates with us. Unfortunately, we have internalized and intellectualized our faith to a great degree. This dramatic, dirty action touches something very deep in our religious consciousness. It is a strange experience to be smudged with ashes, but that foreignness is precisely the point. Ash Wednesday signifies something new has started.

I also believe the symbol of ashes is powerful because it gets at something real: our need for reconciliation. They are an outward sign of the inner desire for healing. We know ourselves to be sinners, yet trust in God’s mercy. Ash Wednesday might best be described as a day for faith-informed confidence. We acknowledge our need to change, and celebrate the God who makes all things new.