“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.”

Matthew 6:17-18

Ash Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day when whole Christian Church enters into the Season of Lent, the forty-day preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. 

Ritually, the beginning of Lent will be different this year. Many parishes will distribute ashes by sprinkling them on the crown of people’s heads rather than marking their foreheads with a cross. Ironically, this way of using the ashes seems more faithful to the spirit of the Gospel reading today: “wash your face, so you may not appear to be fasting.” A few ashes in our hair are hidden compared to a large cross on our foreheads! Has this been a benefit of the Covid pandemic? Has it pushed us to be more faithful to the Gospel text? 

This sprinkling of the ashes, rather than the signing, may also be an invitation from the Lord to reflect upon hidden ways in which we pray and the public ways we are called to live out our faith. 

Many things that were private or personal have become public in the last year. The space of our homes behind us when we are in a Zoom meeting, the members of our household – or pets! – that sometimes now come into the picture. 

But the reverse has also happened: much more of what was once public, has become more private in the last year: church services now live-streamed into our lounges or bedrooms, conferences becoming webinars, gatherings of friends becoming one-on-one connections, choir rehearsals becoming individual singalongs with practice tracks and accompaniment recordings. 

We have all been forced into solitude. Some people have discovered their deeper soul needs and are rearranging their priorities and even changing their career paths. Some people have found ways to personally practice turning towards God and asking for mercy in ways they never have before. This Ash Wednesday God may be inviting us to see the ways that God is with us in solitude and small, almost hidden ways. It may also be an invitation to look at exactly how we live our faith in real and concrete ways. 

Pause today and ask yourself: How will you live this Lent? What is God inviting you to do this Lent? 


In this time of Lent, help me to come to know you more clearly, love you more dearly and follow you more nearly.


Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church.

director@jesuitinstitute.org.za @rpollittsj
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