Ashes have long been used to symbolise penance and humility. In Genesis 18:27, we read the prayer of Abraham: “I am bold to speak like this to my Lord, I who am dust and ashes.”

The use of ashes as a Christian symbol was first noted around the 4th century. At this time, sinners would be marked with ashes, and temporarily expelled from the community for wrongs such as heresy, murder, adultery and apostasy.

By the 7th century, this practice had evolved into a public Ash Wednesday ritual. Sinners were made to wear sackcloth and ashes, and made to live apart from their families for all of Lent. They could not enter the church, and were kept from speaking to others. They did penance, prayed, slept on the ground or a straw tick and could not bathe or cut their hair. On Holy Thursday, they would be absolved from their sins and allowed to return home.


The parish ritual we now practice became the norm around the time of Pope Urban II (late 11th century). Today, a sign of the cross is traced on our foreheads with ashes made from last year’s palms. The ashes symbolise the beginning of a holy season, a time for reflection and renewal.

Year’s palms, ten burn the palms. (Light some charcoal in a grill or other fireproof container –make sure to do this outside or in a well-protected and ventilated area– then burn the palms on the charcoal. Palms are difficult to burn, so make sure they are dry and the fire is hot.) Sign each other on the forehead with ashes from the burnt palms.

At the start of Lent, have students write down on small pieces of paper, something they would like to change about themselves during the coming lenten season. Collect the papers and put them in a jar with a lid on it. Keep the jar visible during Lent as a reminder that this is the season of change and renewal.

Have each member of your family select a favourite canned food. Remove the labels, and burn them in a fireproof container. Put the ashes in an empty can, and place in a conspicuous place as a reminder to change eating habits through the Lenten season.


In the spirit of Mardi Gras, reflect on what makes you laugh. Are the jokes you hear and repeat in line with Christian values? Are they at the expense of another person, ethnic group, or gender? What about the magazines, television shows, movies or music that you enjoy? Imagine Jesus sitting beside you while you read, watch or listen: would he find the same things amusing that you do?


In your home or classroom, celebrate Fat Tuesday with a party. Decorate the room with crepe paper streamers and balloons. Play games and share favourite foods and sweets. Place pussy willows and forsythia branches in water to show the promise of spring.

Select a favourite food from the refrigerator or cupboard, and consume all of it before Ash Wednesday. Do not purchase any more of this food until after Easter.

Share a few jokes or funny stories with someone, and ask if they have anything funny to share with you.

Review the printed materials you read regularly, as well as your choices of TV shows, movies and music. With family members or your students, state your opinion of popular but inappropriate materials. Write and share your views with those responsible for producing the content of these media.

Fun at YMA

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