Explaining the religious and cultural importance of Ash Wednesday


Lenore Ferguson

Wednesday, March 6 marked an important day for many members of the Catholic community–the beginning of Lent, a day of fasting, prayers and repentance. Catholics refer to the day as Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday happens to be later than usual this year, as it usually falls on a Wednesday in February. Nonetheless, Catholics celebrate it by avoiding consumption of meat and going to Ash Wednesday mass where worshipers receive ashes from palm leaves saved from the previous year’s Palm Sunday.
Catholics repent and confess their sins and reaffirm devotion to God on this day. It is a day Catholics look forward to rather than dread because it marks the beginning of Lent and a time to cleanse themselves of their sins.
During the mass, a priest spreads the ashes using his thumb on the worshiper’s forehead saying the words “Remember that you are the dust, and to dust you shall return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The ashes are not to be washed off until the end of the day.
For Lent, it is traditional that the worshiper gives up a negative practice or habit in their lives. Some typical examples are soda, junk food and snacking between meals–even smoking and drinking.
While all these bad habits are good things to give up, many Catholics decide to add something positive to their routines for the 40 days of Lent. Some examples are talking to Jesus more or thinking of oneself more positively.
Ash Wednesday and Lent are both very personal and very spiritual days for Catholics. The 40 days of Lent end on April 18, just before Easter (the 21st).
Throughout this journey, Catholics will be following their Lent mission of staying away from negative habits in their lives and moving towards more positive practices of their lives, both religious and not religious.