In this Holy period of Lent , Fr. Lijo Velliyamkandathil from Kalyan Diocese would be sharing his knowledge and thoughts on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy of ‘Great Lent’, through a Catholic Focus’ initiative named ’Know the Lent’. In the liturgical cycle of the Syro Malabar church, the Great Lent is observed as the days for penance and atonement in preparation for Easter.
Fr. Lijo highlights that “The day after Pethratha comes Ash Monday which is the first day of fasting. In Malayalam this day is known in different names such as Vibhoothi, Karikkurithirunal, Kurisuvarathirunal. The Sanskrit word Vibhoothi means ashes which is an ancient symbol for the purification of soul. We see in the Old Testament people using dust and ash as a symbol of repentance or grief. Job repents in dust and ashes. Just prior to the New Testament period we see the Maccabees prepare for battle sprinkling ashes on their heads. We see in the book of Jonah the King and people of Nineveh fasting, wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes in repentance. This practice of repentance is seen throughout the Old Testament. In his first public address recorded in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus emphatically proclaims, the Kingdom of God has come near, Repent and believe in the Good News. We see Jesus speaking about repentance in Mt 11:21 “Woe to You Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes”. Further, Fr. Lijo explains that “Christians continued the practice of using ashes as an external sign of repentance. It is in the council of Benvento held in the 10th century that Pope Urban II for the first time declared all the faithful to receive ashes on the first day of Lent as a sign of repentance. During the liturgy of Ash Monday, the priest makes a sign of the cross on the forehead of the faithful as an external sign of repentance with ashes made by burning the blessed palm leaves distributed on the previous Palm Sunday. The sign made of ashes reminds the faithful the 19th verse of chapter 3 of the book of Genesis which reads “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” It helps us to ponder over the short life span of man in world.”
Fr. Lijo concludes his remarks on ‘Ash Monday’ by reminding that “It is a very strong tradition that the faithful take the blessed ash from the church and make sign of the cross at the lintels and doors of their houses and premises as a symbol of protection for people and husbandry.”