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 his mortality and his need to repent from sin. They also call to mind God’s mercy and point toward the Resurrection.

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

Though not a Holy Day of Obligation, Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting. Ashes should be received during Mass.

On Ash Wednesday, Catholics also abstain from eating meat and fast by eating fewer and smaller meals.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent:

The beginning of a special season for Christians:

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

Dwelling in the simplicity of the Lenten season:

“Return to me with all your heart, with fasting…Return to the Lord, your God!” Today we announce Lent with the words of the prophet Joel, and we begin it with the whole Church. We announce Lent of the Year of the Lord 1979 with the rite that is even more eloquent than the words of the prophet. Today the Church blesses the ashes, obtained from the branches blessed on Palm Sunday last year, to sprinkle them on each of us. So let us bow our heads and in the sign of the ashes recognize the whole truth of the words addressed by God to the first man: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return”

Pope John Paul II, Ash Wednesday Homily, February 28, 1979

The palm and the ashes reveal a cycle:

Ashes signify mortality and repentance: 

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

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

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:

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