Q. Are there any connections to pagan rituals to the Ash Wednesday ceremony? I remember when my church (Lutheran) did not do this but became in vogue in the late 70’s. To this day I am uncomfortable partaking.
A. Some scholars believe Ash Wednesday had its origin in pagan religion. Others say it sprang from the Old Testament practice of repenting in sack cloth and ashes. In any case it was not practiced by the early Church and was first observed in the 6th Century. It marks the beginning of Lent, another non-Biblical tradition that supposedly commemorates the Lord’s 40 day wilderness temptation but that may also be of pagan origin.
Those who observe these traditions do so in a sincere attempt to please the Lord and certainly don’t believe they’re practicing a pagan religion. Even so their observance falls under the category of religious work, which is sinful man’s futile attempt to make himself worthy before a Holy God. Jesus made us worthy on the cross (Hebr. 10:14) and nothing we do can improve on that.