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Ash Wednesday: A Q&A with G DeCastro

Written by Mike Thee
February 16, 2010

Ash Wednesday Masses will be held at 7 a.m., noon and 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 17 in the Chapel of St. Ignatius. G DeCastro, assistant director of campus ministry for liturgy, takes a few moments to talk about the Mass, its significance and historical roots.

The Commons: What is the symbolism and meaning of Ash Wednesday?

G DeCastro: Bestrewing oneself with ashes and wearing sack cloth as a gesture of repentance for one’s sins is an ancient tradition. Ashes are of course also a symbol of our mortality. (“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” are the words the minister uses when placing a cross of ashes on the forehead.) Contemplating the temporal nature of our life, and for Christians to seek a conversion of our interior life, an intentional turning toward the life God calls each of us, makes the celebration of Ash Wednesday a most profound experience.

The Commons: What about the origins of Ash Wednesday?

DeCastro: Dies Cinerum (Day of Ashes) is how the Roman Catholic Church refers to Ash Wednesd

 
G DeCastro is assistant director of campus ministry for liturgy.
ay. It goes back to at least the eighth century according to existing Church documents, maybe even earlier. The practice of marking the faithful’s forehead with ashes has its roots in the early Church practice of publicly marking with ashes members who have committed serious offenses.  This evolved into all members of the Church being called to repentance for their sins as the Lenten fast began.

The Commons: Where do the ashes themselves come from?   

DeCastro: The ashes come from the palms blessed for Palm Sunday of the previous year.

The Commons: What determines the timing of when Ash Wednesday takes place?

DeCastro: The date of Ash Wednesday is different each year. The actual date is determined in any particular year by counting 46 days back from when Easter is celebrated. Easter is always celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox (March 21). So Easter Sunday falls sometime between March 22 and April 25. Therefore Ash Wednesday can be as early as February 4 and as late as March 10.