Repent and believe the in the Gospel.
This evening and all through this Ash Wednesday day, these formulations from the Roman Missal have echoed within the walls of Catholic parishes all over the world. This act of penitence, the mark of ashes on our foreheads in the sign of the cross speaks of the spiritual combat that we are summoned to undertake during the Lenten season that is in the words of the Collect of the day, “as we take up battle against spiritual evils.” The imposition of ashes is no more a quaint vestige of a mediaeval custom than is the reality of the Evil One himself who threatens to undo the good work the Lord has begun among us this evening. In fact the intensity of the desire to grow in holiness will be met with the ferocity of wiles and the wickedness of the Evil One. Evagrios of the fourth century puts it this way:
“The demon is very envious of us when we pray, and uses every kind of trick to thwart our purpose…. The warfare between us and the demons is waged solely on account of spiritual prayer. For prayer is extremely hateful and offensive to them, whereas it leads us to salvation and peace.”
We have in truth taken up the battle against spiritual evils. A contemporary priest says,
“The Church isn’t Shangri-La. The Church is the battleground for the salvation of souls. The Devil is the prince of this world. The demonic enemy rampages and devours. The bishops and priests of Holy Church will be the enemy’s first targets. The enemy will seek to divide, to spread doubts, to sew dissension among those who ought to be the most filled with faith, hope and charity. The Church is, simultaneously, a rock and refuge for sinners as well as a vicious blood-stained battlefield. It has ever been so.”
May we embrace the Lenten season of 40 days as a time of true repentance. I commend to your prayer the seven penitential psalms. You can print these and make them the daily sustenance of your prayer as you embrace the “battle against spiritual evils” with the weapons of penance and charity so we may celebrate Easter with heartfelt devotion.
More Lenten resources: