Missa-Ashes and Asperges
There are times when the Penitential Rite is not used. Well maybe that isn’t the right way to say it. Rather the rite is replaced by another ceremony which fulfils the intent of the rite. This occurs several times during the year, most notably during the Easter season and on Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday, which is our stepping stone into the season of Lent, is one of the most popular masses outside of the big holidays of Christmas and Easter. It’s significance is about repentance and mourning accompanied by fasting, prayer and alms especially during the Lenten season which follows. What most people come away with on Ash Wednesday is the remnant of what the day is named for, and that is ashes. After the homily, the priest will bless the Ashes, which were prepared from the palms of last years Palm Sunday, and in a similar fashion to the Communion, the congregation will go forward and receive ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross, (signum crucis). There is often an exhortation which accompanies this such as the minister saying to “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.” or “Repent and believe the Gospel”
During the Easter Season and on a few other occasions through the year another ceremony will stand in place of the Penitential Rite. This ceremony is the Asperges, or blessing and sprinkling with water. It is a reminder of our baptismal vows.
The priest blesses water, and sprinkles himself and those serving then will move through the congregation and sprinkle holy water on those assembled. Often a hymn will accompany the blessing. The tie in with Baptism is clear with the use of water, but there is also a tie in with older stories from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Exodus, cleansing rituals for lepers, and even in Psalms the image of being cleansed, or purged with hyssop and blood calls to mind the very precious work Christ undertook to save us all, by the shedding of His Blood. As I take part in this blessing, seeing the flash of water from the priest and feeling the cool shock of its spray on my skin, I have to keep in mind exactly why it is water and no longer the blood of sacrificed animals we use today.
In both cases these alternate ceremonies tell us a different story but keep in with the intention and spirit of penitence, calling us to focus on different aspects of our own lives, through repentance, confession and the forgiveness of sins.