Ash Wednesday (B)
February 14, 2024
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.



Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

First Reading Joel (2:12-18)

Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing, Offerings and libations for the LORD, your God.  Blow the trumpet in Zion! proclaim a fast, call an assembly; Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; Let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber. Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep, And say, “Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say among the peoples,  ‘Where is their God?’”  Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.

Responsorial Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17

Second Reading 2 Cor 5:20-6:2

Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says:  In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.  Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Gospel Acclamation

Gospel Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

Jesus said to his disciples: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

"When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."


          Before long these ashes we are about to receive will disappear from our foreheads — at least by tomorrow morning, I hope!  But the effects of this little ritual of smudging the forehead with some burnt palm from last Passion Sunday is supposed to last for 40 days.   Sprinkled ashes with their companion garment — sackcloth — are the Bible's  way  of expressing sorrow, whether for mourning a departed loved one or, in this case, to show contrition for one's sins.  The church adopted the symbol — thankfully, without the sackcloth — for those who, after committing some serious sin sought to be restored to Communion.  Such people were enrolled in the "Order of Penitents" and underwent a lengthy period of rigorous penance under the supervision of the bishop.  The Lent prior to their reconciliation was an even more intense preparation when on Holy Thursday when they would be absolved and readmitted to the Eucharist in time for Easter. 
         During the same period, the catechumens who were preparing for baptism — often for many years — were entering the final stages prior to their initiation at the Easter Vigil, being now known as "the Elect" and soon to undergo the final examination known as "the Scrutinies."  But that lengthy process began when their foreheads were marked with the Sign of the Cross at the door of a church when they were first entered the "Order of Catechumens."   Now today we know these rites as the Sacrament of Penance (or Reconciliation) and the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults — though admittedly they survive in a rather vestigial form when compared to the practices of the ancient church.  Yet however much truncated and far less demanding, they still have a place in the life of the church — indeed, a vital place.
         If, for example, you receive these ashes today as an outward sign of penitence, absolution awaits you at some point in this Lenten season, during Holy Week at the latest.  Opportunities for confession abound "throughout these forty days."  Or if you come as an erstwhile catechumen, then the renewal of your baptismal vows awaits you during the Easter liturgy after which we are sprinkled with the water that will have bathed the Elect during the Vigil.   Take your pick or, better yet, imagine yourself as both a Penitent and a Catechumen in the coming weeks — the signing with ashes marking your enrollment in one or the other order.  And to awaken your imagination, listen to the following invocation from the Sixth Century as the bishop prepared to absolve the penitents on Holy Thursday upon their petition to receive the sacrament.  It speaks both of them and the Elect: 
The moment of grace has come, the day of God’s mercy and humanity’s salvation, the day when death was vanquished and eternal life began. In the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts it is time to plant new shoots and root out all that is withered up... Our community is to be increased by those to be baptized; it will also be increased by sinners who return. The waters of baptism wash clean; so too do the tears of the penitent... Encouraged on their way by the example of those around them, and in the presence of the whole Church praying with them they cry out: We acknowledge all our faults, our sins are ever before us. Turn away your face from our sins, O Lord, and wipe away all our iniquity. Give us again the joy of salvation and build up your strength within us. (Gelasian Sacramentary)

Intercessions (Roman Missal)

For the whole Christian people, that in this sacred time they may be more abundantly nourished by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

For the whole world, that in lasting tranquility and peace our days may truly become the acceptable time of grace and salvation.

For sinners and the neglectful, that in this time of reconciliation they may return to Christ.

For ourselves, that God may at last stir up in our hearts aversion for our sins.

That God may be pleased to increase faith and understanding in the catechumens who are to be initiated by Holy Baptism in the coming Paschal Solemnity.

That peoples in need may find help and that peace and security may be firmly established everywhere.

That all who are afflicted or suffering temptation may be strengthened by his grace.

That all of us may learn to distribute the fruits of self-denial for the good of those in need.

Gracious and merciful God, you look with love upon a sinful people and desire only their return to you.
We beg of you the grace to live this holy season, to persevere in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
By the discipline of Lent purify our hearts of all pretension, bring us back to you, and make the whole Church ready to celebrate the mysteries of Easter.
Grant this through Christ Lord. Amen.  (ICEL; 1998)

Distribution of Ashes

Offertory Chant

Offertory Hymn

Communion Chant

 Closing Hymn

I see a struggle now within, Alive in my soul,  As I'm dying to sin

I do the things that I hate So I hate what I do, Who will deliver me?
But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, For there is no condemnation at all
This is the message we have heard, We have seen with our eyes We have touched with our hands
The Word of life appeared The Word became flesh,  The Word dwelt among us The Word of life The God of light
And in Him there is no darkness at all
If we claim to have fellowship with Him Yet we walk in the dark We live in a lie
If we claim to be without sin We deceive ourselves The Word is not within us
If we confess our sins and cry out to God He will forgive and purify our human hearts
For those who are in Jesus Christ He has given us of the Spirit of God