Reflections

ASH WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2021

REPENT! RETURN TO YOUR GOD!
Greeting
The peace and reconciliation
of the merciful Father
be always with you. R/ And with your spirit.
 
Introductions
“I Will Serve”
Today we begin our forty days of Lent, forty days of preparation for Easter. Why these forty days of penance? To return to our roots — to God, to our better selves — and consequently also to our neighbour. In many ways we have tried to be our own gods, to decide for ourselves what is right or wrong, and we have ended up by making ourselves the center of the world at the expense of ourselves, of God, of our neighbour. Now is the right time to return to God and to turn to the people around us. We express our brokenness and our readiness to change when, after the gospel (or, after the final blessings – following different Covid-19 protocols), we receive the ashes.
 
Away with All Masks
In many regions of the world people celebrate carnival in the days before Lent with much noise and merrymaking. Often they wear masks for the occasion. But today Lent begins, the time to put off our masks and to turn our face and heart to God and to people. In this holy season we reflect on the true meaning of our lives. Who am I and what am I living for? Am I living for God and the community? We shall be invited to receive ashes on our foreheads with the invitation, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.” Away, then, with all masks and return to God, to your true self and to one another as God’s people.
 
Here is Lent, Our Favourable Time
Lent begins today. It is a “favourable time,” a season of grace. We are called to go up with Christ to Jerusalem, the place where he will suffer and die before he will rise in glory. This means that we are called with him to suffer and die to ourselves and to sin and to give up the evil in and around us, so that we can rise, individually and as a community, to a deeper Christian life, become more available to God and to people, and capable of rendering service with love. The way is conversion, repentance, summed up in today’s gospel as almsgiving, that is, caring for people; as praying, that is, listening to God’s word and giving it a response of love and commitment; and as fasting, that is, giving up our selfishness. We express our willingness to be converted when, after the gospel, we receive the ashes.
 
(Note. The penitential rite is omitted, since the rite of the ashes is a rite of penance and conversion.)
 
Opening Prayer
Let us pray that this Lent
we may turn to God and to one another
(pause)
 
God our Father,
you know how often we try to go
our own selfish ways.
Do not allow us to live and die
for ourselves alone
or to close our hearts to others.
Help us to see ourselves and life
as gifts from you.
Make us receptive to your word and your life
and make us grow in the mentality
of Jesus Christ our Lord. R/ Amen.
 
1 Reading: Joel 2:12-18
Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing, Offerings and libations for the LORD, your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion! proclaim a fast, call an assembly; Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; Let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber. Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep, And say, “Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.
 
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 12-13, 14 and 17
R. (cf. 3a) Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
 
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me. R.
 
For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.” R.
 
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me. R.
 
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. R.
 
2 Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2
Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
 
Acclamation: Psalm 95:8
Glory and praise to you, O Christ.
If today you hear his voice,
harden not your hearts.
Glory and praise to you, O Christ.
 
Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
 
Introduction by the Celebrant
Blessing of Ashes
These palm leaves have turned from green branches into gray ashes. This is the way it goes with us. We do not remain the same. We grow older, we make life gray and dusty for ourselves and for others. These ashes remind us of the brittleness of life, of our guilt and the penance we need. We will humbly receive these ashes as we are marked with the sign of the cross, for our hearts are willing to follow Jesus on the way of self-denial and love.
 
Prayer of Blessing
Bless + these ashes, Lord,
as the sign of conversion and penance,
as the token that we want
to discover your Son today
in the silence of our prayer
and in our neighbour,
whom we encounter in his needs.
Let the sign of the cross,
given in the name of the Father,
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
encourage and heal us,
so that we may serve you and our neighbour
by the strength of Jesus Christ our Lord. R/ Amen.
 
The priest sprinkles the ashes in silence. Then follows the imposition of ashes:
Turn away from sin
and be faithful to the gospel.
 
General Intercessions
At the beginning of this season of conversion, we look forward to reconciliation with God and our neighbor. Let us bring before our Father our cares and the needs of all, and let us say:
R/ Have mercy on your people, Lord.
 
For the Church of Jesus Christ, that it may be freed from human shortcomings so that it can show to all the light and the power of the gospel, let us pray:
R/ Have mercy on your people, Lord.
– For people far and near who are stuck in sin and discouragement, that they may find reconciliation with God, with themselves, and with the people around them, let us pray:
R/ Have mercy on your people, Lord.
For those hardened by riches or power and insensitive to the needs of others, that in these forty days of penance they may discover ways of true happiness through generosity to their neighbor, let us pray:
R/ Have mercy on your people, Lord.
For all those who bear a heavy load of suffering and cares, that they may go with courage the way of the Lord Jesus, let us pray:
R/ Have mercy on your people, Lord.
For one another, that each of us may be ready to go the way of peace and reconciliation, of service and commitment, let us pray:
R/ Have mercy on your people, Lord.
 
Lord our God, every year you give us new opportunities to grow in love of you and our neighbour. Give us the strength to live these forty days in the spirit of Jesus our Lord. R/ Amen.
 
Prayer Over the Gifts
God our Father,
your Son Jesus gave up everything
to be free for you and for people.
We bring these gifts of bread and wine before you
as signs that we want to be free
to live for you and for those around us.
Accept these offerings, and make them
Bread of happiness and Wine of joy
for our world today.
We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. R/ Amen.
 
Invitation to the Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray to our merciful Father
that we may forgive others
as he has forgiven our sins through Jesus. R/ Our Father…
 
Deliver Us
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil
and grant us the peace of reconciliation
with you and with people far and near.
Help us to make up for the harm
we have done to others
and to live in hope and joy
for the future you have prepared for us
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. R/ For the kingdom…
 
Invitation to Communion
This is Jesus the Lord,
who went before us to show
the way of forgiveness and love.
Let us receive him with joy,
for he is our strength. R/ Lord, I am not worthy…
 
Prayer after Communion
Our merciful God,
we are afraid of facing ourselves
and giving up our attachments
to our selfish ways.
We have heard Jesus’ words
and eaten his body.
May these help us rise from the ashes of sin
and renew our fervour and love,
that we may follow him
on the narrow road of life
to you and to others.
We ask this in this season of grace
through Jesus Christ our Lord. R/ Amen.
 
Blessing
Only God can make us whole again
from our brokenness.
Only God can give us the insight
to discover how often we are alienated
from him, from others, even from our true selves.
Only God can give us the strength
to change our ways and to become all new.
May the living and loving God bless you:
the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. R/ Amen.
 
Go in peace and may Christ be your strength. R/ Thanks be to God.
 
Sermon
Those who are frequent travelers are familiar with the use of GPS (Global Positioning System). When they have to drive to an unfamiliar or distant place, they set their GPS to guide them through the right route to their destination. I, for one, have always depended on my GPS to reach my destinations. During my travels, I frequently make wrong turns and take wrong exits. Every time I make an error, my GPS, patiently “recalculates” and guides me on to the right route from the wrong location I am at.
The season of Lent is like the GPS. We have set out on a long journey through “narrow” and “rough” paths (Matt 7:13-14) toward an exciting destination. But the journey is hard and long, and we often take wrong exits or digress into dangerous alleys. The season of Lent, with its gentle reminders, warnings, and exhortations, gives us the necessary software to recognize our errors, locate the right route, and get back on the path to our right destination. Happy journeying!
The rite of the imposition of ashes puts us on the “way of true conversion.” In the background are the words of the Sermon on the Mount which propose in a different hue the three major characteristics of Jewish spirituality: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. They are the three stars that should shine in the Lenten sky of every Christian; three values that have to be lived in a new way. It’s not about morality or external devotions but vital choices born of love that translate into love for God and neighbour.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *