Summary: Is the Lenten season Biblical or does it spring from church tradition? Is it good, neutral or harmful? Just trying to answer these questions ....
Israel's major airline, El Al, recently rejected a plea by ultra-orthodox Jews with a priestly heritage to fly inside body bags. Why would someone want to do this? Ritual law states that a priest who enters a cemetery becomes religiously "unclean." A ruling by a prominent rabbi declared that flying over a cemetery was the same as entering it. He suggested body bags as a means of maintaining separation, but abandoned the idea when told by airline security that it would be unsafe. Orthodox priests can now avoid pollution by flying late at night, as the noise levels require night flights to follow an alternate route which doesn't pass above the cemetery.
The first day of Lent in the West. For 14 centuries the season of Lent has been a time for self-examination and penitence in preparation for Easter. The name comes from the Saxon lengten-tide, referring to the lengthening of the days and the coming of spring. This 40-day period of abstinence recalls the fasts of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, all of which—according to scripture—lasted 40 days. It was originally begun in the Western Church on a Sunday. But since Sundays were feast days, in the latter part of the sixth century Pope Gregory I moved the beginning of Lent ahead four days.
Gregory is also credited with having introduced the ceremony that gives this day its name. When public penitents came to the church for forgiveness, the priest would take some ash (made by burning the palms used on Palm Sunday of the previous year) and mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross as a reminder that they were but ashes and dust. Eventually the practice was extended to include all who wished to receive ashes.
Is Ash Wednesday a bad thing?
No, if a person actually does examine their spiritual life and draws closer to God in the process. Yes, if a person believes they can gain favor with God or other people simply by going through the motions.
We, however, as believers in Christ should be in a constant state of spiritual self examination by the work of the Holy Spirit and through the truth of the Word of God and we should immediately come to repentance when and if we detect any offence toward God. In other words, the spiritual practice that is encouraged during the Lenten season should be our normal mode of spiritual life.
Where religious traditions run into trouble is when they become good works used to obtain favor with God instead of good works flowing from a heart made righteous by a salvation of faith in Christ alone.
Religious traditions also cause problems if they expand on the Word of God, if they take away from the Word of God, if they contradict the Word of God or if they claim to supersede the Word of God.
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.
And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.