Ash Wednesday, the first day of the penitential season of Lent in the Catholic Church, is always 46 days before Easter Sunday. It is a “movable” feast that is assigned a date in the calendar only after the date of Easter Sunday is calculated. How is it calculated? I’m glad you asked.
According to the norms established by the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) and later adopted for Western Christianity at the Synod of Whitby, Easter Sunday falls each year on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This year the vernal equinox falls on Saturday, March 20, 2021 and the first full moon after that occurs on Sunday, Mach 28th. Therefore, Easter Sunday is celebrated this year on April 4th. If you want to know the date of Ash Wednesday, just count backwards 46 days and you get February 17th. Continue reading
In today’s readings for Ash Wednesday, we encounter Jesus in the midst of the “Sermon on the Mount” from the Gospel of Matthew. As my friend, Fr. Bill points out, the entire context of these verses is that prayer, fasting, and alms giving are a “given.” Jesus is operating out of the understanding that faithful people already are doing those things. In other words, Jesus doesn’t recommend a new set of practices, rather he addresses the underlying attitude about those practices.
Before we dive into the Book of Jonah, we need to understand what we are reading, in other words, the literary genre. Why? Simply put, you read a newspaper differently than a novel. You read poetry different than history. It is good to understand what the literary genre of Jonah is because there are many different literary types in the OT, including laments, love songs, parables, apocalypses, and histories. Jonah is generally included with the so-called “Minor Prophets” such as Joel, Obadiah and Micah, so perhaps it straight-up prophecy?
The opening of the book is classic: “This is the word of the LORD that came to Jonah, son of Amittai” (Jonah 1:1; also again in 3:1). This is the classic introduction of a prophetic work. Consider the Book of Micah that immediately follows Jonah in your Bible. Micah is seven chapters of his poetic word oracles, speeches and accounts of visons. But Jonah is not a collection of poetic word, visions, etc. It is a narrative.