The black mark is ashes, a symbol of the need to repent, confess our sins, and return to God. I went to Mass this morning before work. After the homily, we received the ashes. Usually the priest is the one who does it, but because we have such a large church, several ministers also assisted. When it was my turn, I stepped up to the minister, who dipped her thumb in the ashes and, making the Sign of the Cross on my forehead, said, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel". The mark is supposed to be a cross, but some of the people administering the ashes were a little better artists than others; some of the crosses looked like a smudge.
After Mass I had a decision to make. For many years I've worked in places that were heavily Catholic, so everyone had a black mark on their forehead. This year, though, I was torn. Should I leave the ashes on, or clean them off? I could think of reasons for both:
- Clean it off: In one of the Mass readings for today, Jesus says “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting.” By leaving the ashes on, was I trying to insinuate I was holy?
- Leave it on: Every time I look in a mirror and see the mark on my face, it's a reminder of my desire to try and be a better person during Lent. It's also a sign to other people of what I'm trying to do.