2018-02-15 / Columnists

Babylon News & Muse

•It’s the middle of February and we’re more than halfway through winter and at the beginning of Lent. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and many Christians all over the world had a church official place a cross of ash in the center of their foreheads or sprinkled on their heads, depending on the location.

It occurred to me that many of us are not familiar with the reasons behind this, so I thought I would explain it here. Much of the information I found was new to me.

Ash Wednesday is exactly 46 days before Easter Sunday, a moveable feast based on the cycles of the moon. The earliest date Ash Wednesday can occur is Feb. 4. The latest date is March 10. Ash Wednesday has never occurred on Leap Year Day (Feb. 29), and it will not occur as such until 2096.

The custom should remind parishioners that they are ultimately sinners and need to repent. Priests will administer the ashes along with the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” signaling to the faithful that they should start their period of fasting and introspection

Many Western Christians, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics and some Baptists, observe Ash Wednesday.

According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by the devil. Lent originated as a mirroring of this as a preparation for Easter.

Since Sundays are a commemoration of Christ’s resurrection, fasting is not required. (I have to admit, I was unaware of the exemption of Sundays regarding fasting.) Accordingly, Christians fasted from Monday to Saturday during six weeks and from Wednesday to Saturday in the preceding week, thus making it 40 days. Orthodox Christians do this for 40 days in a row.

Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches blessed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday, and placing them on the heads of participants.

I was unaware that in many places, family members can receive ashes and take an envelope of ashes home to distribute to other family members. Also, since 2007, some members of major Christian Churches, including Anglicans, Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists, have participated in the Ashes to Go program, in which clergy go outside of their churches to public places, such as downtowns, sidewalks and train stations, to distribute ashes to passersby and even to people waiting in their cars at a stoplight.

It is up to the individual whether or not they leave the ashes visible for the course of the day.

•I just learned that Richie Brennan, a respected Village resident, died a couple of weeks ago after a long illness. Richie had served as a fire department veteran and worked most recently in real estate. Richie leaves his wife, Patricia, and numerous children, many of whom followed his lead in public service. I met Richie more than 40 years ago, as we both trained as emergency medical technicians. My prayers and sympathy go out to the Brennan clan as well as his numerous friends.

•The Babylon Fire Department is sponsoring a blood drive this Sat., Feb. 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Make an appointment by calling 800-933-2566 or stop in at 153 West Main Street.

•Happy birthday to Barbara Keneally and Christopher Maya!

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