What is Ash Wednesday?

Originally published on March 2, 2022

Updated today, February 22, 2023

Did you ever notice people walking around with an ash cross marking or smudge on their foreheads around late February or early March? Most people realize the ritual is part of a religious ceremony for the upcoming Lent season. Every year, 40 days without counting Sundays before the Easter holiday, Ash Wednesday occurs. Primarily a Catholic holiday, the day signifies the beginning of Lent or the Easter season.

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On Ash Wednesday, also known as the Day of Ashes, many churches hold special services. The sermons generally focus on repentance and prayer. Often the pastor or priest will provide long periods of silence for the worshippers to engage in personal devotion to confess sins.  

Using the ashes of palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, the ashes not only symbolize death but also repentance. Many church attendees use the ceremony to profess their love or recommit their lives to God before Easter. The priest or pastor says, “From dust, you came and from dust, you will return.” Then places the ashes on the person’s forehead.

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When Lent begins, many Christians will use the time for fasting and self-sacrifice by giving up specific luxuries. For example, someone may give up sugar or soda until Lent is over. Also, on Ash Wednesday and every Friday of Lent, faithful followers may forego eating meat.

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The rules of Ash Wednesday greatly depend on your personal faith. Many believe Ash Wednesday involves attending services, receiving the cross of ashes, quiet prayers, and personal reflection. No matter how you choose to begin the Lent season, the day should focus on a Christian’s personal spiritual beliefs and relationship with Christ.

Do you celebrate Lent? What traditions do you follow?

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