Goffine’s Devout Instructions – Ash Wednesday

[Pictorial Lives of the Saints: Ash Wednesday]Why is this day so called?

Because on this day the Catholic Church blesses ashes and puts them on the foreheads of the faithful, saying, “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis 3:19)

Why are the ashes blessed?

  1. That all who receive them with a contrite heart may be preserved in soul and body.
  2. That God may give them contrition, and pardon their sins.
  3. That he may grant them all they humbly ask for, particularly the grace to do penance, and the reward promised to the truly penitent (Roman Missal).

Why are the faithful sprinkled with ashes?

The sprinkling with ashes was always a public sign of penance; as such, God enjoined it upon the Israelites (Jeremiah 25:34). David sprinkled ashes on his bread (Psalm 101:10). The Ninevites (Jonas 3:16), Judith (Judisht 9:1), Mordecai (Esther 4:1), Job (62:6), and others, did penance in sack cloth and ashes.

How should we receive the blessed ashes?

  1. According to the intention with which they are blessed and sprinkled upon the heads of the faithful.
  2. In humility, remembering and confessing that we are dust and ashes, and that for our sins we shall return to ashes again.
  3. To testify before God and man that we are willing to commence the holy season of Lent, and are not ashamed to follow Christ, doing penance publicly, and bearing the ashes on our foreheads. To show the spirit of penance and to move God to mercy, the Church, at the Introit of the Mass, uses the following words (Wisdom 11:24,25): “Thou hast mercy upon all, Lord, and hatest none of the things which thou hast made, overlook ing the sins of men for the sake of repentance, and sparing them, for thou art the Lord our God. Have mercy on me, God, for my soul trusteth in thee.” Glory be to the Father.


Grant to thy faithful, O Lord, that they may begin the venerable solemnities of fasting with becoming piety, and perform them with undisturbed devotion, through Christ.


(Joel 2:12-19) Thus saith the Lord: Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning. And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil. Who knoweth but he will return, and forgive and leave a blessing behind him, sacrifice and libation to the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly Gather together the people, sanctify the church, assemble the ancient, gather together the little ones, and them that suck at the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth from his bed, and the bride out of her bride-chamber. Between the porch and the altar the priests, the Lord’s ministers, shall weep, and shall say: Spare, Lord, spare thy people, and give not thy inheritance to reproach, that the heathens should rule over them. Why should they say among the nations: Where is their God? The Lord hath been zealous for his land, and hath spared his people. And the Lord answered and said to his people: Behold I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and you shall be filled with them, and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations, saith the Lord Almighty.


The prophet, in these words, calls upon the Israelites to be converted, reminding them of the great mercy of God, and exhorting them to join true repentance for their sins with their fasting and alms. They should all, without exception, do penance and implore the mercy of God, who would then forgive them, deliver them from their enemies, and bring peace and happiness upon them.


(Saint Matthew 6:16-21) At that time: Jesus said to his disciples: When you fast, be not tea the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee. Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.

How do hypocrites receive their reward?

They receive their reward from men, and have nothing else to expect, for only works done for eternity will be eternally rewarded. Such are those that are done for God’s sake, add with his assistance. The true Christian lives in God, and in truth; but to live with the world and for mere appearance, is contrary to the life of Christians. All those persons therefore are to be counted among hypocrites who observe the obligation of fasting merely in order not to be censured by men, and not to appear without faith or religion; so too are those who pretend to be sick that they may be dispensed from fasting.

What did Christ mean when he said, but thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face?

To anoint the head and wash the face, were, in the East, the tokens of cleanliness and propriety. By these words, there fore, Jesus said as much as, “When you fast appear as usual, and do not make a show of your fasting, by your singularity.”

Why does Christ join contempt for earthly treasures with fasting?

To take away the miserable pretence of those who fast from avarice, and on account of the petty saving. “Let us fast,” says Saint Augustine, “that the savings may be deposited by the hands of the poor in the treasury of Jesus Christ, and not serve as a nourishment for our avarice. Where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.” Wherever that is which thou lovest best, there are thy desires, thy thoughts, thy works. Is thy treasure of the earth, thy desire will be of the earth also, and will perish with it. Is thy treasure in heaven, thy thoughts and works will be there also, and remain forever.


Jesus goes with his disciples to Mount Olivet. Be thou also prepared for the combat.

Prayer of the Church over the People

We bow down before thy majesty, O Lord; look upon us in mercy, that, comforted by divine gifts, we may always be nourished by heavenly assistance. Amen.

– Goffine’s Devout Instructions