Pope Francis, Ash Wednesday 2022As we said earlier, quoting St John Chrysostom, the cursing of the ground has a “medicinal” function: meaning that God’s intention is always good and more profound than the curse. The curse, indeed, does not come from God but from sin. God cannot avoid inflicting it, because he respects man’s freedom and its consequences, even when they are negative. Thus, within the punishment and within the curse of the ground, there is a good intention that comes from God. When he says to man, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return”, together with the just punishment, he also intends to announce the way to salvation, which will pass precisely through the earth, through that “dust”, that “flesh” which will be assumed by the [Incarnate] Word.
Pope Benedict XVI, Ash Wednesday 2012
The very ancient and moving rite of ashes today opens this penitential journey. While putting ashes on the heads of the faithful, the celebrant warns each of them: "Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return!" (cf. Gn 3:19).
These words also refer to a "return": the return to dust. They allude to the necessity of death and invite us not to forget that we are merely passing through this world.
At the same time, however, the expressive image of dust calls to mind the truth about creation with an allusion to the richness of the cosmic dimension of which the human creature forms a part. Lent recalls the work of salvation, to make man aware of the fact that death, a reality he must constantly face, is nevertheless not a primordial truth. Actually, it did not exist at the beginning, but, as the sad consequence of sin, it "entered the world through the devil's envy" (Wis 2:24), becoming the common inheritance of human beings.
St. John Paul II, Ash Wednesday 1999
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