Ash Wednesday Observance

So today is post-Pancake Day, or Ash Wednesday as it is sometimes known. I remember this time two years ago when I was very much a newcomer to Maynooth being quite surprised to see some folk wearing a cross marked in ash on their forehead as in the picture above. I think this practice is a tradition within the Roman Catholic Church with which Maynooth has long historical associations, so it’s not really surprising to see it here. Having been brought up in Protestant England I had never seen this before moving to Ireland, but it has become a familiar sight to me to see people with crosses on their foreheads.

Apparently the tradition used to be for ashes to be sprinkled on the top of the head of a male worshipper but a cross to be made on the forehead of a woman because she would be expected to be wearing a hat. Based on a small sample of those I have observed it seems both genders wear the cross on the forehead nowadays.

Anyway, although I’m not a Christian myself, respect to all those observing the season of Lent (Quadragesima), whether that means fasting, devotional prayer, or just giving up luxuries, such as reading this blog perhaps.

P.S. I’m told that the normal rule for Lent is `One meal and two collations’. The word collation, in the sense of ‘light meal,’ comes from the title of John Cassian‘s early fifth-century work Collationes patrum in scetica eremo (Conferences with the Egyptian hermits), which was read in Benedictine communities before a light meal. I haven’t heard that English word for a while, but it has the same origin as the Italian colazione, used in prima colazione (breakfast).

4 Responses to “Ash Wednesday Observance”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Ashing is not all that rare in England and is (or at least has recently been) offered as part of the Ash Wednesday early evening Communion in Kings College Chapel Cambridge, at which Allegri’s stunning setting of Psalm 51 (Miserere) is sung.

    Incidentally St Paul is explicit that adherence to any sort of church calendar, whether weekly or seasonally, is a matter for the believer’s private conscience (Colossians 2:16). There is not even a command to celebrate Easter in the New Testament! I think that a day of rest every seven is a good institution, and the congregation I’m part of meets on a Sunday, but no day is more or less holy than any other.

  2. Miss Lemon Says:

    I was regularly ‘ashed’ as a child and survived to tell the tale.

    I suspect it might be (slightly) easier to give up chocolate for Lent, rather than not reading your blog. We’ll see … Being in the home Cadbury’s now [in the real Midlands], it might not be that straightforward.

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