This knee-jerk reaction is really quite ironic considering that the Bible, which they expound as their sole source of inspired authority* came directly from the very Church they state is not scripturally based. Therefore, let's look at some of the non-Catholic Christian attacks that we may encounter today...
THE "WORKS BASED," NON-INTERNAL ARGUMENT:
These two Protestants claim 2 things that they deem are wrong with the observance of Ash Wednesday: 1) it is based on works and 2) it is merely an "outward thing." Additionally, they cite Matthew 6:16 which does in fact say the following:
"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full." (KJV)
One of the Protestant commentators then paraphrase verse 17-18 by stating that, instead of looking disheveled, we are to "comb our hair" and "wash our face" so that no one may know what you are doing accept God the Father, who already knows what we are doing and why you are fasting. The two commentators then proceed to build up the argument that God the Father wants an inward change and not an outward show and, therefore, ashes on the forehead mean nothing.
Too bad that these two Protestants don't have a clue as to what Ash Wednesday is truly about! For starters, they fail in telling the TOTALITY of what ashes mean from the biblical view. These two guys absolutely negate the entirety of what ashes mean when they are spoken of in the bible and, since I don't want to be seen as a Christian who picks and chooses what he likes and doesn't like, let's see some Old Testament verses in regards to ashes (all quotes are from the KJV):
Job 42:6 - Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
Job confesses this statement right after he was rebuked by God.
2 Samuel 13:19 - And Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of diver colours that was on her, and laid her hand on her head, and went on crying.
Tamar does this after being force to have sexual relations with her half-brother Amnon, something strictly forbidding in Leviticus 18:11.
Esther 4:1,3 - When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry...And in every province, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting and weeping and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
This was Mordecai's reaction when the king, Haman the Agagite, vowed to kill the Jews because Mordecai would not bow to him. This reaction is explicitly made as a petition for Esther to intervene on behalf of the Jews, indeed in verse 16, Esther tells Mordecai and the Jews to fast and pray for her.
Isaiah 61:3 - To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planing of the LORD, that he might be glorified.
We find this verse in Isaiah's Book of Consolation, in which the prophet is speaking to the children of the exiled Jews and the hope that there is to come; here we see that Isaiah stating that they will receive beauty in exchange for ashes, that is, optimism for their sadness.
Jeremiah 6:26 - O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation: for the spoiler shall suddenly come upon us.
The prophet speaks of the evils that will befall Jerusalem if she doesn't return to the commands and ordinances of the LORD.
Ezekiel 27:30 - And shall cause their voice to be heard against thee, and shall cry bitterly, and shall cast up dust upon their heads, they shall wallow themselves in the ashes...
Ezekiel speaks of the fall and undoing of Tyre. So bad where the goings on in Tyre that Jesus Himself parallels Korizin and Bethsaida in Matthew 11:21!
Daniel 9:3 - And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes...
The beginning of David's confession and prayer to God.
Ecclesiastical writer, Tertullian (160-220 AD), penned the following in Chapter 9 of his On Repentance, in regards to the penitent, he must, "lie in sackcloth and ashes and cover his body in mourning." In Eusebius' (260-340 AD) historic work, Church History, we read in Book 5, Chapter 24 paragraphs 11-17 that St. Ireneaus (?-202 AD) admonished Pope Victor for not being at peace with the traditions of fasting, he writes:
"For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some, moreover, count their day as consisiting of 40 hours day and night. And this variety in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors. It is likely that they did not hold to strict accuracy, and thus formed a custom for their posterity according to their own simplicity and peculiar mode."
Furthermore, in Book 5, Chapter 28 paragraphs 8-12 of Church History, Eusebius writes about how Pope Zyphrinus accepted an excommunicated heretic back into the church after he repented; the heretic, Natalis, upon realizing that he was wrong, "put on sackcloth and covered himself with ashes, and with great haste and tears he fell down before Zephyrinus..." St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD) in Chapter 18, paragraph 32 of his Catecheical Lectures explicitly mentions Lent. St. Cyril of Alexandria (376-444 AD) mentions repeatedly in his Festal Letters how the Lenten season is observed by fasting. The very first ecumenical council at Nicaea in 325 AD, stated in Canon 5, that bishops should meet twice a year in order to verify that excommunicates have not been deprived the mercy of the Church over pettiness, it states that the bishops are to meet, "one time before Lent, so that, all pettiness being set aside, the gifts offered to God may be unblemished..." Pope St. Leo the Great (400-461 AD), in his 40th sermon On Lent delves into what the Lent seasons means to the Christian and, in his 42nd Sermon On Lent, states the following at the end of section I:
"...Divine Providence has with great beneficence taken care that the discipline of the forty days should heal us and restore the purity of our minds, during which the faults of other times might be redeemed by pious acts and removed by chaste fasting."
In 601 Pope Gregory the Great moved the beginning date to a Wednesday in order to achieve 40 days, sans Sundays, from the start of Lent to Easter as well as instituting the imposition of ashes on the forehead, it has remained unchanged ever since. This Tradition continued onto the Middle ages, when the Abbot of Eynsham, Aelfric (955-1020 AD) wrote in his Lives of the Saints Chapter 12, entited "The Beginning of the Fast" the following:
"We read in the books, both in the old Law and in the new, that men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes, and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little in the beginning of our Lent, that we strew ashes upon our heads, to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during our Lenten fast."
Easily seen, is the undeniable fact that the bible, and Christian history, demonstrate that ashes are used in conjunction with repentance and penance. Indeed, as Catholics, the Lenten Season is just that: it is where we, as Christians, take stock of our mortality in light of Christ's redemptive act on the cross;. It is a time where the Church asks all Christians to truly ask for forgiveness via fasting and prayer and, to the bettering of ones soul. So, you see, using the outward sign of ashes as a sign of repentance is 100% BIBLICAL.
In regards to the argument that this is a "works based" view of salvation, these two Protestant commentators forgot one very important thing about Matthew chapter 6: Jesus Christ Himself, lays out the rules for almsgiving (verses 1-4), for praying (verses 5-15) and for fasting (verses 16-18), in other words, Christ tells us how to properly do these actions, that is, Christ tells us what we need TO DO spiritually in order to draw strength from God so that we may become pious! Once it is all read IN CONTEXT, it is absolutely astonishing at just how much bible-alone Protestant miss. Additionally, Jesus isn't talking to Catholics who observe Ash Wednesday in Matthew 6:16, he is speaking directly to the Pharisees who - when they fasted - made sure to utilize it as a tool so as to appear devout to others, hence why Jesus called them hypocrites.
What is truly a bit ironic here is that both of these Protestants state that Ash Wednesday is of no use because it does nothing for the "inward man," that is, the only thing happening is on the outside and not on the inside. I say this is ironic due to the fact that they do not believe in works being able to justify man (a correct and wholly Catholic idea) and they, more than likely, prescribe to the sola fide principle that was invented by Martin Luther in the early 16th century. The real curious thing about Martin Luther's man-made notion is that he stated that righteousness in IMPUTED and not INFUSED; basically Martin Luther stated that man is justified by the legalistic act of simply believing. If you believe in Jesus, then God HAS TO justify you - even though you have not gone through any internal penance, repentance, change or spiritual transformation. All you have to do is believe and that's it, God counts you as righteous. Where as the Catholic view maintains the following (my emphasis added):
"The Catholic idea maintains that the formal cause of justification does not consist in an exterior imputation of the justice of Christ, but in a real, interior sanctification effected by grace, which abounds in the soul and makes it permanently holy before God. Although the sinner is justified by the justice of Christ, inasmuch as the Redeemer has merited for him or her the grace of justification (causa meritoria), nevertheless he or she is formally justified and made holy by his or her own personal justice and holiness (causa formalis)"
In other words, the Catholic view of being made righteous before God involves an internal change whereas the Protestant view of justification through the lens of sola-fide (faith alone) maintains that it is imputed and does not have to necessarily do anything to the heart of the believer. How funny, Ash Wednesday is bad because it does nothing for the inward part of man BUT, imputed justification is okay because it does nothing for the heart of man.
THE EARLY CHURCH DID NOT PRACTICE LENT, THEY THOUGHT IT WAS EVIL AND PAGAN!
"Howbeit you should know that as long as the primitive church retained its perfection unbroken, this observance of Lent did not exist."
- St. John Cassian, Conference XX, Chapter XXX (360-435 AD)
"...Mithra there (in the kingdom of Satan,) sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers..."
- Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics, Chapter 40 (160-225 AD)
While I won't go into the whole "Easter/Lent is pagan" argument (I'll save that for an up coming post!), I would like to show you 2 often used quotes of the Early Church Fathers that Protestants use in order to attempt to make the early Church seem anything but Catholic. The issue here is a common Protestant mistake, in that, they take 1 quoted passage out of its context and pass it off as part of their heretical belief system. However, if we take these passages in context and as a whole, these 2 quotes by the Early Church Fathers, are easily reconciled with Catholic theology. Let's quickly look at the first quote by St. John Cassian.
If we were to continue to read St. John Cassian's 20th Conference on the origin of Lent, we would read the following:
"For they [the primitive church] were not bound by the requirements of this order, or by any legal enactments, nor confined in the very narrow limits of the fast, as the fast embraced equally the whole year round. But when the multitude of believers began day by day to decline from that apostolic fervour, and to look after their own wealth, and not to portion it out for the good of all the faithful in accordance with the arrangement of the apostles, but having an eye to their own private expenses, tried not only to keep it but actually to increase it, not content with follow the example of Ananias and Sapphira, then it seemed good to all the priests that men who were hampered by worldly cares...should be recalled to the pious duty by a fast canonically enjoined, and be constrained by the necessity of paying the legal tithes, as this certainly would be good for the weak brethren and could not do any harm to the perfect who were living under the grace of the gospel and by their voluntary devotion going beyond the law, so as to succeed in attaining the blessedness which the Apostle speaks of: "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law but under grace."
What St. John Cassian is stating here is that the Lenten fast was made into canonical practice after the Church's faithful grew in number and started to include more of those who search after worldly riches. It was because of this that the Church decided to mark this season as one of self-reflection and repentance so that those faithful, who were more engrossed in worldly cares, could strip them off and become sanctified through the pious act of fasting, praying and repentance. So, you see, when taken in its entirety, St. John Cassian IS NOT going against the observance of Lent but, he is actually building the historically Christian case for it!
Now, let's analyze Tertullian's quote. To begin with, Chapter 40 of Prescription against Heretics, is fully entitled:
No Difference in the Spirit of Idolatry and of Heresy. In the Rites of Idolatry, Satan Imitated and Distorted the Divine Institutions of the Older Scriptures. The Christian Scriptures Corrupted by Him in the Perversions of Various Heretics.
In other words, Tertullian has set out to prove that Satan has imitated and polluted - through heretics - the true Christian Scriptures AS WELL AS Divine Institutions. Indeed, a thorough reading of Chapter 40 equates Satan as having the following:
- Having a form of baptism
- Remissions from sin
- Marks on the forehead of his "soldiers"
- The oblation of bread
- Priests who are celibate
If Satan emulates the sacred in order to perverse it, then, Chapter 40 of Tertullian's Prescription against Heresy, cannot be seen as a direct attack on the Catholic Church and her practices. On the contrary, Chapter 40 undeniably and unquestionably supports several Catholic observances! Indeed, if we take Tertullian at his word then it only makes sense that the things that Satan imitates HAVE TO be holy, inspired and sanctifying counterparts. The things that Satan twisted have to be Godly, therefore if we undo what Satan has done, we find the following:
- Baptism, is a Sacrament
- Confession is needed for the remission of sin
- Ashes on the forehead for the faithful is sacred
- The Sacrifice of the Mass, i.e., the oblation of bread, is divine
- A celibate priesthood is orthodox
Therefore, to use Tertullian as some sort of attack against ashes on the forehead during Lent is, to give acceptance to the Sacraments, Mass and, Traditions of the Catholic Church, for Satan would not imitate these things if in fact they weren't part of the economy of our salvation.
In closing, we should constantly continue to remember that the Roman Catholic Church - the ONLY Church established by Christ and not by a man - is the Church of Christian history. No other church can ever state that. No other church can prove that they believe and practice exactly the same as the early Church and the early Church Fathers did. I did a little bit of research and I found out that the two Protestant commentators, belong to a church called the United Church of God which, according to their website, was founded...drum roll please...in 1995. That's right, their church was invented 1,962 AFTER Christ established His Church! And yet, astonishingly, they have the gall to state this in their "About Us" page:
|Incongruity, it seems to be commonplace with Protestants.|
That's right, they want to "mirror" the 1st century Christian's teaching of Jesus and the original apostles! Well, pray tell, how is that even possible if they estabished their church less than 20 years ago? How can they begin to mirror the 1st century Church if not through the writings of the Early Catholic Church Fathers? Oh, I know! They'll mirror the 1st century Christians by simply looking at the Sciptures! Okay, if that is the case, then they HAVE TO do certain things:
#1) They HAVE TO do away with the New Testament Scriptures. You see, the New Testament Scriptures were not canonized as Scripture until the late 4th century, therefore, if the United Church of God (UCG) wants to be like the 1st century Christians, they must take into account ALL of the Christian writings that were written before 100 A.D. This would include the Epistle to the Corinthians by Clement of Rome (written around 95 A.D.) in which this future Pope - who is also mentioned by name in Philippians 4:3 - reprimands the Corinthians for removing ordained priest from office and instilling other men who were not ordained as their leaders. Hmmmmm, a high regard for a priesthood that cannot be undone by the laity, I wonder how many of the United Church of God members have remained loyal to their presbyters?
|It would seem that the UCG came about after it had disagreements with their original leaders, proving once again that Protestantism multiplies by dividing.|
#2) Since the NT Scriptures were not part of the 1st century Scriptures, the UCG has to rely solely on orally transmitted knowledge. That is, they cannot use the written word and can only go off of what they heard and remember; good luck not changing the teachings of Jesus as your church grows UCG! Without an inspired Magisterium to preserve and teach correctly, your church will become a footnote in the heretical history of Christianity soon enough. Instead of trying to be like the 1st century Church, why don't you join the 1st Century church, i.e., the Roman Catholic Church? Silly Protestants.
All in all, the custom of observing Ash Wednesday not only has historical backing but it predates any Protestant church. So, to all of my devout Catholic friends, make sure you ask the anti-Catholic, "Ash Wednesday isn't in the Bible" Christian the following: "What was your church doing in the 1st century? What was it doing in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th century? Do you still have the same teachings and beliefs from back then? Who was your church's leader during that time? Can you produce a document that demonstrates your church's leaders? Or, was your church invented less than 20 years ago?
*Any time a bible-only Protestant makes the statement that the Bible is inspired, ask them to show where, in each of their 66 books, it explicitly states that the book is inspired. We as Catholics know for sure that it is inspired for it came from the unerring and spiritually protected Magisterium.