Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent in the Western Church and takes place 46 days (40 fasting days not counting Sundays) before Easter. As the date of Easter is calculated on the cycles of the moon the date of Ash Wednesday will vary from year to year. It can fall as early as February 4th and as late as March 10th.
The name of the day comes from the custom that churchgoers are marked on their foreheads with a cross of ash to symbolize death and regret for past sins. The priest accompanies the marking with a recital of Genesis 3:19 – ‘ Remember that you are dust and into dust you shall return.’
Traditionally, the ashes are created from burning the palms used in the church on Palm Sunday the previous year. During the 40 fasting days Christians are supposed to abstain from all bodily pleasures including giving up eating favourite food e.g. meat, chocolate etc. This is intended to remember the fasting of Jesus, who spent 40 fasting days in the desert before beginning his ministry.
The custom of sprinkling ashes is celebrated as a reminder of human mortality and a sign of mourning and repentance to God.
Written by: Anna Pędziwiatr