This Lent, Man, Remember, Thou Art Dust!

On Ash Wednesday, the Novus Ordo prayer that is said as each person is marked with a cross on the forehead with ashes is;

“Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

or “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”

Ash WednesdayThe priest or ministers can say either one.  But, in almost every case I can remember in the Novus Ordo masses or services on Ash Wednesday, the ‘Repent’ one was always used.  Yes, Lent is definitely a time for repenting of our sins in a very serious way.  It is so serious, that we do not want to ever return to them again, especially after Lent is over.  But, everyday is a time to repent and change, (while we still have a chance), not just Lent.

There is only one prayer used in the traditional Latin Mass for the distribution of ashes and that has been used for hundreds and hundreds of years:

‘Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.’

‘Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.’

This prayer is taken right out of the Holy Bible and is part of the curse that God put on Adam and Eve for sinning.  Dying and turning back to earth, (from which they were made), was part of their punishment for having rebelled against God who is good.  God created them to live in paradise without death.Add.10546 f.5v Adam and Eve, from the Moutier-Grandval Bible, illuminated in the Carolingian Abbey of St. Martin, Tours, Latin, c.834-843 (vellum)

‘To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’ s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.
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  And to Adam he said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life.  Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth.  In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.’  Genesis 3:16-19

So, on Ash Wednesday, it is so correct to meditate on who man is.  Our body is nothing more than elements sustained together by God.  These elements came from (a tiny bit from our fathers seed), but mostly from our mother’s bodies and all that she ate from the earth.  And then we continually sustain our bodies by eating things that come from the earth.

  • vegetables
  • cow milk and meat, (cows eat grass and grains that grow out of the ground to grow and produce milk).
  • eggs and chicken meat, (chickens eat grass, grain, bugs, dirt).
  • pigs (who eat corn and other food that comes from the earth).

The word humus is the latin word for earth.  From this we have the word human.

Human = Humus.

This is pretty humbling information for us who think we are so great.  Oh, by the way, humility also comes from the word humus, ‘down to earth’.  But the problem is:

Humans ≠ Humble (Hard to ever find a humble human.)

skulls from Aztec ritual 2So, in the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday, Jesus reminds us that all that we have here has been created from ‘dust’ and can return to ‘dust’. He reminds us that we should instead be placing our heart on the eternal and spiritual things that last forever in heaven:

‘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 the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.’  Matt. 6:20-21.

And precisely what is that which will not return to dust and of which we should be working on in Lent?  It is our soul.  Adam and Eve’s bodied are buried here in the earth.  (It is said that they are buried on Calvary).  But their souls were redeemed by Jesus on the cross and are in Heaven with God.  At the second coming of Jesus, our (humus) bodies will be transformed into glorified (humus) and be united with our souls in heaven.

I have buried hundreds of people in the ground at cemeteries.  No matter how rich, middle class, or poor, everyone of these people’s bodies, will be eventually consumed by worms and become only dust and bones.  Only some of the saints bodies, who by God’s miracle, are incorrupt and do not turn back into dust and bones.

alter_christus_cb_Chambers_thumbSo, this Lent, let us be Human = Humble, and not Human ≠ Humble.  Because, if you really are honest with yourself, you too will be buried in the earth and be dust again from once you were taken.

victorian-death-bedAnd for this reason, we want to get rid of our attachment to the things made out of the elements of this world that are passing away, and put our hearts on those that endure forever.

  • The money and things we give away to the Church or poor or those who need it.
  • The acts of charity we do for others out of love for Jesus Christ.
  • The persecution we endure for being traditional Catholics and speaking the truth.
  • The food we cook out of love for those who are going through a hard time or to feed a priest or religious.
  • The time we spend teaching, cleaning and helping at church.
  • All acts of love done for love of God and others.

It is difficult to be a traditional Catholic, but it is the way to go to remind us what truly is important in this very short life.