There was a change in the liturgical mood here in Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu as the Bigard Seminary Community, on March 6, 2019, joined the Universal Church to celebrate Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday, as it were, is a liturgical event that ushers all the Christian faithful into a 40-day Journey of faith with Christ, a journey that finds its culmination in the commemoration of the Paschal Mystery – suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In Bigard Seminary, Enugu, as the liturgical tradition requires, Ash Wednesday usually marks a switch from the Christmas joy that dominates the Season of Ordinary Time to a silent and recollected mood that characterizes another season that Ash Wednesday introduces – Lent. The entire liturgy is organized to reflect this transition – liturgical vestments and altar cloth change to violet, musical instruments are used with moderation, the tone of the liturgical readings becomes exhortive with the liturgical gaze turned to the passion of Christ.
The celebration here in Bigard Seminary started at 5:30am with the Liturgy of Hours proper to the celebration. The Eucharistic celebration which was combined with the traditional Community Mass was presided over by the Dean of Administration II, Rev. Fr. Anthony Okoye, and had in attendance all the seminarians and the Seminary Team of Formators who concelebrated. In his homily, Fr Okoye emphasized that the Season of Lent leans on the triple pillars of Prayers, Fasting, and Almsgiving – the trio are complementary, in that Fasting becomes fruitful only if it finds expression in Prayers and Almsgiving. Enjoining all to embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation more frequently to obtain forgiveness of sins, he maintained that the best form of fasting within this period, as Pope Francis would say, is fasting from sins.
The homily was followed by the blessing and distribution of ash. Moistened with Holy Water, the ash is signed on the forehead of individual faithful in the form of a cross. This is a symbolic action which shows brokenness of heart, repentance, and a returning to God. It is a symbolic action that reminds every Christian that all human beings were fashioned from dust and to dust all shall return in the fullness of time. While inviting us to follow Christ more decisively on the Way of the Cross, it reminds us of our frailty, sinfulness and total dependence on God for our existence and sustenance. The understanding and use of ash in this way is a practice that dates back to the Old Testament.
After the blessing of the ash, the Chief Celebrant, the Concelebrating Priests, the Deacons were the first to perform the ritual of the pouring of the ash, at the end of which they in turn helped to distribute the ash to the rest of the seminarians and others who were part of the celebration.
The ritual of the ash ushered us into the Liturgy of the Eucharist. After the Communion and Post-Communion Prayers, the President of the Eucharistic Assembly thanked all the liturgical ministers beginning with the Choir, the Altar Servers, and every other person who was part of the celebration. As the Mass ended, all left the Chapel in prayerful silence.