A Broken and Contrite Heart

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise (Psalm 50[51].17)

Following the example of the Ninevites, who did penance in "sackcloth and ashes", today we humble ouselves by going to a priest, who will sign our foreheads with ashes both to humble our hearts and to remind us not only of our mortality on Earth, but also that the only Redemption is with Our Lord.

Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church to help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice. The custom is from an old ceremony. Christians who had committed grave faults were obliged to do public penance. On Ash Wednesday the Bishop blessed the hairshirts which they were to wear during the forty days, and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms from the previous year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the holy place because of their sins, as Adam, the first man was turned out of paradise on account of his disobedience. They did not enter the Church again until Maundy Thursday after having won reconciliation by the toil of forty days' penance and sacramental absolution. Later on, all Christians, either public or secret penitents, came out of devotion to receive ashes.


anneminkizi said…
But why does God want these things?

I know there have been different thoughts about this, but through a difficulties and a lot of prayer, it has occurred to me that what God wants is for our souls to be open to him. And pretty much, our souls have to be broken open to enlarge them to recieve God.
anneminkizi said…
I wrote the above comment while I was at work and doing the books and coordinating accommodations for a group of people coming from Egypt, Vietnam, India, Kenya, and who knows where.

I'd like to be clearer. I'm not really responding to the interesting commentary on the history of penitential practices in the Church. I googled " a broken and contrite heart." And that is my topic.

I wondered why God really wants our broken and contrite hearts. This occurred when mine has been pretty much destroyed by my own faults.
My thought on this was first inspired by Lois McMaster Bujold, who has one of her characters sacrifice himself 3 times in order to become open enough to be a portal for a God.

This concept didn't do it for me. I thought it was just silly.I have also given a lot of thought to Ps.51 over the space of 3 decades. The part about God wanting a broken and contrite heart was not something that carried a lot of meaning for me.

But now I think there is a huge reason for God wanting this. As I said, God wants us entirely open to him. God wants us to lose all our hardness and wilfulness and fear of being too kind.

The mental image I keep having is of a walnut being smashed open.

Maybe love is the hammer. I'm trying to think what it is, when we are hurt, or deeply wronged, or maybe just held accountable for a wrong we have done,that makes us repentant instead of resentful, makes us forgiving instead of hateful.

Last time, I was at work, right now I should be at sleep. I deeply regret misspelling receive.

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