“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
With these ominous words, the priest imposes ashes on the foreheads of worshipers on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent with great solemnity. Its most prominent feature is the marking of our foreheads with ashes in the shape of a cross. The ashes that mark our foreheads are a reminder of the curse of sin. The priest who imposes them upon us says those words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” a phrase taken from Genesis 3:19 in which God is outlining the consequences of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. In this way, we acknowledge that we are sinners, following the example of our forefather Adam.
With that being acknowledged, the ashes are made in the sign of the cross, the sign of Christian hope. For on the cross, Christ took away the curse in order that we might have life in him. Yes we are sinners, and yet Christ died for sinners that we might be saved by his death and given life eternal through his resurrection (see Romans 5:1-11).
Christ taught that he came not for the righteous but for sinners, as a doctor comes to treat the sick, not the healthy (see Luke 5:31-32). Although Ash Wednesday, and Lent, is a tough time, it is the time of diagnosis and treatment. It allows us to realize our need for the doctor and to receive anew his promise of eternal life, complete health, and salvation.