Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, a day when Catholics are marked with ashes on their foreheads.

Symbolizing the dust that man was created from and will return to, ashes serve as a reminder of man’s mortality and his need to repent from sin. The ashes also call to mind God’s mercy and point toward the Resurrection.

As the priest crosses the person’s forehead with ashes, he says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” He may also say, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

The ashes on this first day of Lent come from burned and blessed palm from the last Sunday of the previous season of Lent, Palm Sunday.

Though not a Holy Day of Obligation, Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting. Ashes should be received during Mass. Non-Catholics may also receive ashes.

Catholics are obligated to to abstain from eating meat and to fast by eating fewer and smaller meals on Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent:

The beginning of a special season for Christians:

Ash Wednesday falls on a different date each year:

In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return. 

Genesis 2: 19

Only the love of God can sustain dust as a living being:

The somber future and triumphant past of the ashes:

Today, an austere and symbolic gesture is being made in all parish communities: the imposition of ashes, and this rite is accompanied by two formulas, full of meaning, that are a pressing appeal to recognize that we are sinners and to return to God. The first formula says:  “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you will return”. These words of the Book of Genesis call to mind the human condition placed under the sign of transience and limitation, and are meant to spur us once again to place our every hope in God alone. The second formula refers to the words that Jesus spoke at the beginning of his itinerant ministry:  “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”. This is an invitation to base our personal and community renewal on a firm and trusting attachment to the Gospel.

Pope Benedict XVI, Ash Wednesday General Audience, 1 March 2006

Ashes signify mortality and repentance: 

We are marked with ashes in the shape of the Cross:

Death is the end of earthly life. Our lives are measured by time, in the course of which we change, grow old and, as with all living beings on earth, death seems like the normal end of life. That aspect of death lends urgency to our lives: remembering our mortality helps us realize that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfillment: Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, . . . before the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1007

Ash Wednesday sets the stage for what comes next:

Ash Wednesday confronts the fear of death:

The Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of the Catholic Church

Holy Chickens on the Road to Compostela:

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