On this day: Ashes

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

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On this day, Ash Wednesday, the Gospel consists of verses 1 - 6 and 16 - 18 of Matthew, Chapter 6.

At one time, verses 16 - 21 were read. It might be helpful to read all of verses 1 through 21 to understand what Jesus was saying in his instructions on how and where to pray.

In verse 6, Jesus says: "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."

Inner room is a translation of the Greek word ???????, which originally meant treasury. It came to mean inner chamber, a "chamber on the ground-floor or interior of an Oriental house (generally used for storage or privacy, a spot for retirement) -- secret chamber, closet, storehouse." (In Latin, cubiculum.)

In verse 21, Jesus says, "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be."

Treasure is a translation of the Greek word ?????????, meaning that which has been "built up (accumulated) for the day of future recompense." (In Latin, thesaurus.)

It's a shame verses 19 -21, in which Jesus linked treasure to treasury, were dropped, losing the parallel structure.

And it's a shame verse 7 is left out. "In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words."

Babble is a translation of the Greek word ??????????, which meant to stammer.

George VI was not the first king with a speech impediment. Battos, a Greek nobleman, lisped and stammered. He went for help, not to an ancient version of Lionel Logue, but to the oracle at Delphi. She sent him to Libya to found a colony. Battos the stammerer became "the founder of the Greek colony of Cyrenaica and its capital, Cyrene. He was the first king of Cyrenaica, the first Greek king in Africa".

Instead of "babble", ?????????? is often rendered as "vain repetitions". Jesus' admonition about multiplying words like the pagans do is clear. Why, then, are long and repetitious prayers like the Divine Office and the rosary prescribed? And why will so many words be added to the Mass when the new text is implemented?

In verses 17 and 18 of today's Gospel, Jesus says, "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."

Given that specific directive, why the smudge of ashes?

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