Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Lenten Reflection on Ash Wednesday Readings

Ash Wednesday’s gospel reading (MT 6:1-6, 16-18) begins with Jesus saying to his disciples, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father’” (MT 6:1).  And it ends with, "When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.  They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. ..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 (MT 6:16-18).” 

Then, almost immediately after hearing on Ash Wednesday that we should fast clean-faced, in a discrete, upbeat manner, we walk in procession accompanied by gloomy music, to dirty our faces with ashes, indicating that we are fasting.  Is this a procession of hypocrisy? 

For some people, their dirty, ash-bearing faces are a source of religious pride.  Some carry so much pride in their ashes that they disparage people who wash the ashes off their faces, for not carrying enough pride in their religion.  This all strikes me as ironic too.  I wonder what Jesus thinks of the faithful receiving ashes, especially those who proudly display them as a testament to their Lenten observance, or who belittle others who discretely wash their faces afterwards.  Does he see hypocrisy in any of this?

 I also wonder why the reading skips past MT 6:7-15.  I especially wondered that this year because this is the first Ash Wednesday in which English speaking parishes were forced to use the verbose new Mass translation.  In the omitted text lies MT 6:7-8 where Jesus states, “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  It seems Jesus calls us to offer understated prayers with few words.  But, in contrast, the books priests use during Mass are now unwieldy from accommodating all the extra words from the new translation.  Does Jesus think the new Mass translation is akin to us babbling like pagans?

In Mt 6:9-13 which is also omitted from this reading, Jesus delivers the Lord’s Prayer.  During most Masses since the hubbub over the new translation I find myself pondering why the hierarchy is unconcerned that the Lord’s Prayer text used at Mass differs from the translation found in scripture, and differs significantly from the original Aramaic.  Since the Lord’s Prayer is a direct instruction from Jesus who is God, shouldn’t we worry more about correctly translating that than about correctly translating prayers composed by humans? 

As an aside, the end of this blog article has a table comparing translations.

But, especially during the current U.S. political climate in which the bishops rail against secular leaders, and also during this sustained period of punitive church hierarchical practices, I find myself reflecting on the omitted passage in MT 6:14-15 too.  “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”  Since the pope has censured over 90 theologians in an unforgiving manner, I wonder how much forgiveness awaits him or other hierarchical leaders who mimic him by dismissing in an unforgiving manner faithful servants with whom they disagree.

The Lord’s Prayer
Mass version (English translation)
Scripture version (English translation)
English Translation of the Aramaic
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.  

Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;  and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.


Nethkâdasch schmach

Têtê malkuthach.

Nehwê tzevjânach aikâna d'bwaschmâja af b'arha.

Hawvlân lachma d'sûnkanân jaomâna.

Waschboklân chaubên wachtahên aikâna
daf chnân schwoken l'chaijabên.

Wela tachlân l'nesjuna

ela patzân min bischa.

Metol dilachie malkutha wahaila wateschbuchta l'ahlâm almîn.

You, from whom the breath of life comes,

Who fill all realms of sound, light and vibration

May your light be experienced in my utmost holiest.

Your Heavenly Domain approaches.

Let Your will come true - in all that vibrates (the universe) just as in all that is material and dense (earth).

Give us understanding, assistance for our daily need,

detach the fetters of faults that bind us, like we let go the guilt of others.

Let us not be lost in superficial things, materialism, common temptations,

but let us be freed from that which keeps us off our true purpose.

From You comes the all-working will, the lively strength to act, the song that beautifies all and renews itself from age to age.


  1. Where did you find the Aramaic and translation? That is too freaking awesome! I might have to memorize that.

  2. How beautiful is that; how close to the Aramaic is this translation? did they have a word for 'materialism' back then, would they have the concept?

  3. Sorry for the delay processing comments and responding. I've been disconnected from technology for about a week.

    A year or two ago I found this website that claims to contain the original Aramaic with translation:

    I do not speak or read Aramaic myself so do not know how accurate the translation is. I was sent a similar text by a group of theologians with whom I correspond. So, I'm assuming it's a decent translation.

    Regarding the word "materialism". I think the translator offered that as an example of the "superficial things" in which we can become lost.

    I agree that I find this a much more beautiful prayer, and especially am fond of it because it is closer to what Jesus actually prayed and instructed us to pray.

    1. Thank you for your reply; I am intending to print out this prayer and take it to our prayer group. I know they will be delighted.