Thou Art Dust and to Dust Thou Shalt Return

02-19-2023Weekly ReflectionFr Charlie Goraieb

Dear Friends,

Lent begins this Wednesday with the imposition of ashes, which throughout the Bible symbolize mourning, mortality and penance. In the early Church, repentant sinners who were required to do public penance had ashes sprinkled on their heads before leaving confession. In the Middle Ages (at least by the time of the eighth century), those who were about to die were laid on the ground on top of sackcloth sprinkled with ashes. The priest would bless the dying person with holy water, saying, “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” After the sprinkling, the priest asked, “Art thou content with sackcloth and ashes in testimony of thy penance before the Lord in the day of judgment?” To which the dying person replied, “I am content.”

Eventually, the use of ashes was adapted to mark the beginning of Lent, the 40-day preparation period (not including Sundays) for Easter. The ritual for the “Day of Ashes” is found in the earliest editions of the Gregorian Sacramentary which dates at least to the 8th century.

In our present liturgy for Ash Wednesday, we use ashes made from the burned palm branches distributed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. The priest blesses these ashes and then he and the other ministers will impose them on your foreheads, making the sign of the cross and saying, “Remember, man you are dust and to dust you shall return,” or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

When we begin the holy season of Lent in preparation for Easter, we must remember the significance of the ashes we have received: We mourn and do penance for our sins. We again convert our hearts to the Lord, who suffered, died, and rose for our salvation. We renew the promises made at our baptism, when we died to an old life and rose to a new life with Christ. Finally, mindful that the kingdom of this world passes away, we strive to live the kingdom of God now and look forward to its fulfillment in heaven. 

I pray that each of you experiences deep conversion and spiritual growth during this holy season. Make resolutions that will help to curb the appetites and open you to receive a greater outpouring of the Lord’s grace in your life. Follow the tri-partite Lenten regimen of more prayer, giving to the needs of the poor and making a good confession. Great Lent!

Chris Vitale, a parishioner and Catholic evangelist, has been interviewing people willing to share their journey into the Faith, or the circumstances that deepened it. He is looking for men and women, young and older, who would like to share their story. You may not think that you have much to say or that your journey has not been very dramatic, but the great event of your becoming a sincere follower of Jesus can be an inspiration to many who are still searching. You get to talk about the topic about which you are an expert—your experience. Please contact our office if you are interested in being interviewed. You can see the other videos at this link: "The Return": Tim States

May God bless you and your family, Fr Charlie