Ash Wednesday, otherwise known as the ‘Day of Ashes’, falls on Wednesday, February 18 this year. The holiday kicks off the start of Lent, which is a 40-day period consisting of fasting, prayer and abstinence.
The History of Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday and Lent are observed by Christians of the following denominations: Anglican, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian. Ash Wednesday is a full day of fasting and the first day of Lent. While the date can vary from February 4 to March 10, it occurs 46 days before Easter. It incorporates a practice in which ashes from palm branches are blessed the prior year’s Palm Sunday, and used the following year to draw a cross on the foreheads of participants. Participants perform public penance, and the Bishop blesses hair shirts, which they have to wear during Lent. After which, the church recites the Seven Penitential Psalms and those repenting must leave the church, to symbolize how Adam was made to leave paradise.
Just realized Mardi Gras is Tuesday. That makes the next day Ash Wednesday. I'm so not ready for Lent. ✋ #CatholicProblems
— Amanda Woods (@Ladywoods13) February 16, 2015
While Ash Wednesday is considered a Catholic tradition, it is fairly common in many Protestant Churches. The act of placing blessed Psalm ashes on the forehead stems from the Old Testament, in which one can find writings of people using dust and ashes to represent mourning and repentance. These types of references can be found in Esther 4:1, Daniel 9:3 and Samuel 13:19.
Lent is meant to symbolize the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert, according to Mark, Matthew and Luke gospels. Throughout those 40 days, he held strong against the temptation from Satan. The Lent season is spent seeking mercy, prayer and penance. The only days in which one doesn’t fast are Sundays, considered “feast” days.
During Lent, it is common for one to give up something. Some of the top choices this year include chocolate, social media, alcohol and swearing. If observing, it is important to not make a show of it, as Jesus warns in Matthew 6:16-18. On Fridays during lent, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday, Christians abstain from eating meat. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, some Catholics fast the entire day or only eat bread and water. During the Middle Ages, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday was called Shrove Tuesday because all were required to go to confessional and get guidance on their penances to perform during Lent. Shrove Tuesday is also called Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, marking the end of Carnival.