By Bishop Alberto Rojas
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Peace and wellbeing to you and to your families. Once again, we begin our 40 days of Lent with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. During the Lenten Season we are invited to prepare ourselves as Church with the repentance of our sins and the conversion of our hearts, in order to live the mysteries of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ at the conclusion of Holy Week.
The practice of receiving the ashes comes from the Old Testament, even before Our Lord Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church. People used to receive the ashes on their heads or on their whole bodies as a sign and recognition of their sins, their repentance and the conversion of their hearts. In our time, we continue to receive the ashes on our foreheads or on our heads with the same intention: repentance of our sins and conversion of our hearts. The ashes are made from the burning of the blessed palms we received on Palm Sunday the year before and are blessed with holy water by a priest or deacon.
The reception of ashes is not an obligation, but it is a beautiful and profound tradition which does not exclude anybody in the practice of our Catholic faith. However, there is an obligation about fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday for all Catholics between the ages of 18 and 60 years old. The obligation for abstinence from eating meat on Fridays of Lent applies from 14 years of age. Obviously, if anyone is sick and under serious medications, this obligation would not apply to them.
The 40 days of Lent reflect the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, fasting and praying in preparation for his Saving Mission. The number 40 is used many times in the Bible to symbolize the fullness of time for something to take place. Thus, we hear of the 40 days of the flood, the 40 days of Moses up on Mount Sinai before receiving the tablets of the ten commandments and the 40 years of pilgrimage of the people of Israel through the desert.
During Lent, the Church invites us to practice fasting, praying and works of charity as sacrifices that can help us to enhance and have a better spiritual experience; an experience that would help us to prepare ourselves better for the celebrations of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
Dear friends, let us then unite ourselves in observing these three Lenten practices to prepare us to obtain New Life in the Resurrection of Jesus at Easter. Peace and blessings to all!