[OPINIONS]:::Ah! Another Ash Wednesday!

No. 55 Wednesday, February 17, 2010
[POSTED BY::: Rev. Dr. Dylan Toussaint] 
How will you observe or how have you been observing Ash Wednesday 2010?

   If you are like many Jamaicans you will either spend the day sleeping, watching television, gardening, playing a game, going to the beach, going on a trip or eating out. On the other hand, if you are like some Jamaicans much of the day will be spent at church, fasting or in deep reflection and meditation.
   By the way, if you were in the Republic Ireland you would be commemorating National No Smoking Day, which is held annually on Ash Wednesday!
   This begs the questions, "How is Ash Wednesday to be observed? Is it to be treated as a regular holiday or does it have special religious significance? In fact, why is it called Ash Wednesday?''
                     MAIN MEAL
   Traditionally, Ash Wednesday is observed on the seventh Wednesday before Easter and the first day of Lent. It is believed that Ash Wednesday was introduced by Pope Gregory I, and has been universal since the Synod of Benevento (1091).
   From those days its observance consisted of ashes being placed on the forehead (as a sign of penitence), fasting (which served to prepare candidates for Easter baptism) and deep meditation (which provided a measure of focus).
   As the custom evolved; especially from the fourth century onwards, this fasting was extended over the Lenten season.
   By the thirteenth century the observance of a fast day was defined as one main meal at noon or night, with one or two other slight reflections permitted.
   Then, in February 1966, in an apostolic constitution issued by Pope Paul VI, fasting and abstinence during Lent were obligatory only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
   It is to be noted that over the years Ash Wednesday has had its fair share of opposition. From the days of the Reformation many 'Reformers' objected to its observance on the grounds that it promoted legalism.
   Subsequently others have opposed it based on the fact that they do not see any. Biblical basis for its existence and observance. They argue that Ash Wednesday is nothing more than a man-made invention which serves no other purpose than preparing persons for the pagan celebration of Easter.
   As well, there are those in our society who regard Ash Wednesday as just another holiday. Such individuals are quick to point out that while many countries of the world give recognition to the significance of the day, very few of them have made Ash Wednesday an official holiday.
                    STRESS LEVEL
   In light of the above-mentioned arguments and apart from the fact' that Ash Wednesday provides another holiday for the country, are there any arguments in support of its continued observance? It does seem that way from the following points of view:
   There are those who argue that over the years they have benefited tremendously from another opportunity to meet, fellowship, pray, fast and meditate with other Christians. They contend that such opportunities are to be appreciated and seized, especially when one considers the high levels of stress that now exist within our society.
   Furthermore they refute the claims that the traditional practices of Ash Wednesday smack of legalism and paganism. In fact many of them see Biblical bases for observances such as Ash Wednesday, especially in terms of fasting.

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