Ashy and Honest: A review of my first Ash Wednesday

Wednesday was my very first Ash Wednesday service. Being exceedingly new to the Episcopalian religion, there is no question I have a lot to learn when it comes to the church seasons and traditions. Keep this in mind.

First, let us touch on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, also known as Fat Tuesday, also known as Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day.  

No matter what you call the day, it serves as the last day before the first day of Lent where you can use up those eggs and fats before beginning the Lenten Fast. What better way to use up those ingredients than making a ton of buttery, flaky pancakes? 

At this feast the ones in attendance will perform the “burning of the palms.” When I first heard of this ritual, I was wholly confused to say the least. I was utterly flabbergasted to be honest, thinking to myself that there was no way I was going to burn my palms and what in the world I had gotten myself involved in.  

Thankfully my priest was able to clarify that there would be no burning of my hands, but that they would be burning the palms (a plant) that are usually distributed during the previous year’s Palm Sunday liturgies to make the ashes that will be used during the services held on the very next day, which brings me to Ash Wednesday.  

As I entered the church that day with a friend, I saw her dip her fingers in a bowl. Having flashbacks of the weeklong inner ponderings regarding my palms being burnt, nonetheless I followed suit, dipping my fingers, as well. She proceeded to inform me that it was holy water. Ok, I need all the holy water I can get.  

I looked around, not knowing anyone, since I was just visiting this church with my friend. I noticed an elderly lady dressed completely in black with a veil covering her head, which made sense considering this first day of Lent is supposed to mark a 40-day period of remembering the events leading up to and including the death of Jesus Christ.  

The service was very solemn, silent and beautiful. During the priest’s homily, he reminded the congregation that if this day and the rest of the 40 days of this season were all we had to remember, what a somber day it would be indeed, but we have better days ahead to look forward to after this season of repentance and reflection.  

We have Maudy Thursday, a day to commemorate the day before Jesus died, which leads us to Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus’ death and sacrifice for our sins. Next comes the joyful celebration of His resurrection from the tomb, rising from the dead, allowing us an opportunity of eternal life – Easter Sunday. All of these days are meant to prepare our hearts and minds for this glorious day.  

I’m not going to lie, it is a lot to try to learn and keep up with, but understanding the days and acts of the Lenten season deepens my experience and it is supposed to be a very personal experience. A time which begins with a public declaration that you are indeed a sinner and a work in progress, but the inner work should be just that … inner and honest. A time where we can remove the façade and attempt to justify our sins and through that tough work, we can dispose of the mask we have been living behind and see things through a new clarity.  

Although, this is a personal experience you can rely on your community of believers for support if you need it and to answer any questions you may have during this season because if you are like me, you will have plenty.

Oh, and I almost forgot that I am supposed to be giving something up for 40 days. Was that supposed to begin the morning of Ash Wednesday or after I have been ashed? I may already be failing in that department.

(Paige Nash is a wife, mom, digital journalist for Webster Parish Journal and publisher of Bienville Parish Journal.)

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