‘Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.’
‘Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.’
On this day, the first day of Lent, we meditate upon who we are and what we are. We are nothing more than created elements of this earth sustained together by God. Our bodies came from the earth and to the earth, they shall return. That speaks of the physical body - not of the soul. The soul is eternal and after this life, the soul is judged and will spend eternity with God - or eternity without God. The latter is the state of hell, where those who refuse His redemptive gift will spend eternity, weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 22:13).
The ashes represent our mortality, and the dust we shall return to. They are a sign of penance and mourning. We mourn not for our pain and suffering, but for the pain and suffering which Jesus underwent for us during His passion and death. It is because of this passion and death that Jesus paid the price of our redemption and we can then rejoice with Him and the angels in eternity - IF - we believe in Him and confess Him among our neighbors. The penitential rite of wearing the ashes for the day of Ash Wednesday is one of those ways we confess Him before others. The ashes are a reminder of our death - and remind us to be ready for that death.
Offer up something for Lent that will continue to remind you of Jesus and the 40 days He spent fasting in the desert before He entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and then the suffering of Passion Week which culminates on Good Friday with His death on the Cross and burial in the tomb.
Also, remember - Ash Wednesday and all Fridays throughout Lent are days of fasting and abstinence from meat. NO MEAT and only ONE full meal for the day plus two smaller meals which if combined do not equal a full meal.