Ashes to ashes: Local Christians observe beginning of Lent
NATCHEZ — Christians throughout the Miss-Lou and the world observed Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, by having a clergy member rub an ashen cross symbol on their foreheads.
The Rev. Ken Ritter, pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church, said that since biblical times the ashen cross on the forehead has served as a sign of penitence.
Symbolically today, however, Ritter said, the practice has various meanings and is just one of many symbolic Christian practices.
“I see another symbol of using the palms, which were used on Palm Sunday as Jesus entered Jerusalem as a sign of victory that Christ had over the cross,” Ritter said, “that the cross was a victory over sin and that gave us all the ability for redemption and eternal life. As we receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, it’s all those things wrapped in one.”
Several churches, including Catholic and Episcopal churches, burn palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday and use the palms’ residue for the ashes, Ritter said.
“Regardless of where they come from, something was burned away for these ashes to happen,” Ritter said. “I see that as a symbol of becoming a new beginning, a new chapter if you will, with your Lord and the people around you.”
Ritter said the symbolism of ashes could have many meanings, one being related to human mortality.
“It clearly says in the Gospel that you are dust and God created you with the dust and to the dust you shall return,” Ritter said.
Even the placement on the forehead is a significant reminder for Christians to recognize others, Ritter said.
“The physical placement of it on the forehead is a sign for yourself of being marked as one of Christ’s own,” Ritter said. “And, more importantly, it’s a symbol to each other as you walk around. People see that on you, and they realize you have been marked for Christ as one of Christ’s own.”
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