And To Dust You Shall Return


And so the season of Lent begins. If you attend Ash Wednesday Mass and receive ashes then you’ll hear one of two things while receiving your ashes. The meaning of one seems fairly obvious. The other seems to confuse people sometimes – but it shouldn’t.

The obvious one is “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.” I think most people get this one. The other is “Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” I love this one.

Some people seem to feel like it’s too negative. And honestly, I think a lot of people just don’t get it. I was confused about it for years, too. I thought – “wait, I thought the reason I was showing up for mass in the first place was to keep this whole turning back into dust thing from happening?! What gives!?”

These words come from scripture, actually. They occur after The Fall when God is explaining to Adam one of the main consequences of his Original Sin – separation from God and mortality. God reminds Adam that his body is dust, and (now that you have fallen) to dust it shall return. Our bodies were no longer eternal, at least not by their fallen nature. We needed to be fixed. The gulf between Man and God needed to be repaired.

Ash Wednesday takes us back to that moment. We are standing in the Garden with Adam and Eve. We are dust and to dust we shall return. There is a great chasm between God and us. We need to be fixed.

And what is the fix? Jesus, of course. The Paschal Mystery. Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is the only thing that crosses the great chasm and has the ability to reconcile us with God. And of course that is precisely the focal point of Lent – Easter.

We lay in dust looking forward with hope to the celebration of Easter. Looking forward to our real saving participation in the Passion of Christ and the one sacrifice on the cross at Calvary.

We remember that we are nothing without Christ. We are nothing but dust if we do not have Easter. And in fact, (unless Jesus comes back before we die) we will all turn back into dust one day. And it is only Jesus’ resurrection that gives us hope that we too shall be risen from the dust once again.

So when you hear these words, “you are dust and unto dust you shall return,” it should put you in the spirit of Lent. It should remind us that not only are our bodies dust, but so are all of the things of this world. All of our money, possessions and earthly accomplishments are not important in themselves. They are all fleeting. They are all, ultimately, dust.

Lent is a time to re-evaluate our lives. Yes, we are dust. Now do we spend our lives chasing more dust? Or are we chasing the one thing that can truly make an eternal difference? Are we chasing the one Being who can actually breathe life into dust?

For a people of dust, this is our only hope.

You also might like: 5 REASONS TO LOVE FASTING (from The Radical Life).

12 comments Add comment

Fred Stemp February 26, 2009 at 11:33 am


Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this post and I plan on using this to help my children better understand this. Nice job!

Pax Vobis and God Bless!

Raul (rap584 in Twitter) February 26, 2009 at 11:34 am

Another nice blog entry. I had forgotten the tie to Adam and Eve, thanks for the refresher!

Manya February 26, 2009 at 11:43 am

You explain confusing things so simply that they’re easy to “get.” Thank you!


Jon D. Wilke February 26, 2009 at 12:04 pm

This is my first time to the site, but won’t be my last…Well-written post!

Amanda February 28, 2009 at 7:14 pm

What a great ending…. Also, I am not sure that I ever knew about the relation of the ashes to the garden…Thank you…

Chantae March 15, 2011 at 11:42 pm

I loved that so much, thank you! I feel so blessed to have come across your blog. It was no accident I’m sure. :-)

Mr Abram Bethuel Molifi May 5, 2011 at 8:01 am

What I want to know is, Do we have to do that everytime when we burry someone/or body what I realised is that Adam was alive when God told him this so what is the use of telling the body which the owner is already out of it? help me please I love this. email to me please

Matthew Warner May 5, 2011 at 8:40 am

Mr Abram – good question! The fact that we are temporarily separated from our bodies at death is one of the most appropriate times to remind us of this reality – not just because the deceased person is actually experiencing the reality at that very moment (their body is temporarily returning to dust), but because it is also a reminder to the rest of us in attendance that we, too, face the same end.

And the only thing that brings life back to that dust is Jesus Christ – particularly through his resurrection and overcoming of death itself.

I hope that answers your question!

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