ASH WEDNESDAY: “Repent and Believe in the Gospel”

Published February 10, 2016 by Unprodigal Daughter

Ash Wednesday

“Repent and believe in the Gospel.” These are the words that we hear as the priest administers ashes on our foreheads. We all know that the purpose of ashes on our foreheads is to remind us that we came from dust, and to dust we shall return.

However, the more profound message we receive in the Ash Wednesday liturgy is to “repent and believe.” It seems very obvious, especially for those of us who have been Catholics all of our lives. We are sinners, so we need to repent. Jesus is God, so we need to believe. The task appears to be so obvious that it almost does not need to be said…but why is that? The answer is that we take the task for granted–we disconnect ourselves from Christ’s real message, a message of embracing unconditional love, which is only a detriment to ourselves.

Lent is a forty-day opportunity for spiritual renewal. Some of us may take up the rosary, volunteer at our parishes, or stop consuming alcohol, just to name a few examples. All of these practices assist us in getting closer to Christ. However, a deep spiritual renewal comes from listening to Christ during those holy moments–not merely going through the motions. This is where the message of “repent and believe in the Gospel” becomes even more important.

As Catholics, we emphasize repentance frequently–we even have a sacrament related to repentance and penance. Nevertheless, we continue to fail God, and fail ourselves. If we believe in the Gospel, feeling sorrow for our sins should be easy. Repentance and belief go hand-in-hand, and yet we always go back to our old ways, away from Jesus.

And there lies our problem. Have we really, truly, loved Jesus Christ? We profess our Creed, and exclaim that Jesus died for our sins, but have we been transformed by the message? Why aren’t we moved more by these rituals and prayers? Why is it that each Lent feels like we are “back to the old drawing board”? What is needed for us this Lenten season is an authentic conversion of heart toward the God of Love.

Luckily, this task is much simpler than any of us are making it out to be. God is right in front of us, waiting for our embrace with open arms. God is right here, and God is nothing but love. When we say, “repent and believe in the Gospel,” it is not simply a reminder that we are terrible sinners and that we need to shape up and take Jesus more seriously. It is an invitation to return God’s embrace. A better way to think of repentance is: how could we not have repented and believed sooner, when God’s love is beautiful, perfect, contagious and unconditional? How could we not repent and believe when there is no greater good than Christ? This should not be such a struggle, but a joyful experience!

When we embrace unconditional love, we respond through penance, almost immediately. When we respond to God’s irresistible love, we bring that love to others. We stop seeing divisions among us, and start seeing the connections between us. When we answer God’s call to love, “repent and believe in the Gospel” does not seem like a threat, or a reason to be afraid for the future. It becomes the air we breathe, and an exciting new journey with our Beloved Jesus.

Today, when you get ashes at mass and the distributor says “Repent and believe in the Gospel”, let it be a reminder that God is simply waiting for us to accept the invitation to fall deeply into His unconditional love. 

Opening Prayer

Jesus, you place on my forehead
the sign of my sister Death:
“Remember you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

How not hear her wise advice?
One day my life on earth will end;
the limits on my years are set,
though I know not the day or hour.
Shall I be ready to go to meet you?
Let this holy season be a time of grace
for me and all this world.

“Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.”
O Jesus, you place on my forehead
the sign of your saving Cross:
“Turn from sin and be faithful
to the gospel.”

How can I turn from sin
unless I turn to you?

You speak, you raise your hand,
you touch my mind and call my name,
“Turn to the Lord your God again.”

These days of your favor
leave a blessing as you pass
on me and all your people.
Turn to us, Lord God,
and we shall turn to you.

(taken from

Daily Readings

Reading 1: JL 2:12-18

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
Perhaps he will again relent
and leave behind him a blessing,
Offerings and libations
for the LORD, your God.

Blow the trumpet in Zion!
proclaim a fast,
call an assembly;
Gather the people,
notify the congregation;
Assemble the elders,
gather the children
and the infants at the breast;
Let the bridegroom quit his room
and the bride her chamber.
Between the porch and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep,
And say, “Spare, O LORD, your people,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
with the nations ruling over them!
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”

Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land
and took pity on his people.

Responsorial Psalm PS 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 12-13, 14 AND 17

R. (see 3a) Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Reading 2: 2 COR 5:20—6:2

Brothers and sisters:
We are ambassadors for Christ,
as if God were appealing through us.
We implore you on behalf of Christ,
be reconciled to God.
For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin,
so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Working together, then,
we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For he says:

In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.

Verse Before The Gospel: PS 95:8

If today your hear his voice,
harden not your hearts.

Gospel: Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
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.”



Here is a guided meditation for this first day of Lent.

Additional Activities

Here are forty quotations pertaining to Lent–you can read them all at once, or read a new one daily, to add to your spiritual practice.

Closing Prayer

Forty days alone, 
a wilderness of thoughts, 
tempting and inviting thoughts, 
which could so easily have distracted you 
from your task, your mission,
your vision.
Yet you emerged, stronger and more attuned 
to all that had to be done, 
despite a time constraint 
that to our eyes would have seemed hopeless.
We too live in stressful times. 
Demands are made of our time, 
that leave so little 
for the important things of life. 
We are easily distracted 
in the wilderness of our lives, 
by every call to go this way or that,
to turn stone to bread 
leap from mountains, 
and do all that would keep us from the truth.
We listen to the voices of this world, 
and ignore the one who endured all this 
and so much more, 
and emerged triumphant, 
that we might not have to suffer so.
Forgive us, Father, 
when we get distracted from our task. 
Forgive us those times when we try 
to be all things to all men, 
and fail to be anything to anyone

(taken from

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