Remember that you are dust: the hope in Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, believe it or not, isn’t a Holy Day of Obligation. Even so, right in the middle of the week, Catholics turn up in droves on the first day of Lent for Ash Wednesday Mass and to receive ashes on their forehead. What’s it all about? Patrick Madrid, host of The Patrick Madrid Show on Relevant Radio, shares the scoop.

Remember that you are dust. It’s what the priest or deacon says as he traces a cross of ashes on our foreheads, and its roots trace back to the very first humans. When Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden, they lived in unimaginable joy. They had enlightened intellect, food in abundance, health and prosperity, and everything they ever needed. But when they sinned and turned away from God, it all fell apart.

“Adam and Eve were now about to be banished by God from the Garden of Eden. Thrust out into the world as it really is with nature not friendly to human beings and snakes that will bite you and animals that will eat you if they can, and having to work for your food. … [God] says all these different things, including you’re going to have to work for your food, you’re going to have enmity with nature, and it all includes sickness and eventually death,” explained Patrick.

God then tells them:

By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread until you return to the ground from which you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return. – Genesis 3:19

Hmm. Sounds familiar.

The point is that after the fall, death entered the world. When you go forward to receive your ashes, you will hear that quote from Genesis. It’s a reminder that because of sin, evil entered the world and we all will die as a result. Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.

“The Good News is, you will conquer death by being united to Jesus Christ, who is the second Adam. He is the one who came and put to right what Adam had destroyed. … Adam died on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil when he reached up and took the fruit that had been forbidden and he tasted it. … That tree and the fruit from that tree is what, in essence, killed the human race,” said Patrick. “So what does God do? He becomes one of us in the Incarnation … and it’s the fruit from the second tree, the tree of Calvary—Christ himself who remains with us in the form of the Holy Eucharist—that is the antidote that saves us from the poison of the first tree.”

When you hear those words today, on Ash Wednesday, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” Patrick urges you to think about not only what was lost since the first time those words were spoken, but what you have gained.

He says, “Those ashes, although they are a pronouncement of your mortality … we are assured of victory and your victory is in Jesus Christ. The key is, you’ve gotta stay with him.”


Tune in to The Patrick Madrid Show weekdays at 9am-noon ET / 6-9am PT only on Relevant Radio®.

Lindsey Kettner serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a wife, mother, and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she studied journalism and advertising. She writes daily at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.