Most often observed by Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalians and Lutherans, Ash Wednesday falls on the seventh Wednesday before Easter. In the work of Lent Christians are encouraged to speedy, pray, give alms and seek repentance for their sins. Some Christians abstain from a standard part of their every day method in the work of Lent to remind them of the sacrifice of Christ. Some might refrain from eating positive favourite foods or from fun activities.
Take off your Mardi Gras beads. Eat your last paczki. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a solemn time for Christians for 40 days before Easter.
On this day, Christians come before a priest or minister to get the sign of the cross, marked in ashes on their foreheads, as a way to keep in mind: Ashes to ashes. Catholic priests make the sign of the cross, saying the words: “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”
The solemn proceedings that occur on Ash Wednesday bring the focus back to the sacrifice of Christ and the mission of the Church, according to some. The observance most likely comes from the biblical Day of Atonement. In Leviticus 16, the Lord establishes an annual day of repentance for the Israelites as a long-lasting ordinance for all their generations.
T.S. Eliot wrote a poem, “Ash Wednesday”, years after his 1927 conversion to Anglicanism. It is a poem of penitence, near despair and hope. In it, they focuses more on struggle and doubt than on belief. Eliot believes in God, but doubts his ability to reply to Him.
“Remember, Man is dust, & unto dust you shall return.”
Following the example of the Nine vites, who did penance in sackcloth & ashes, our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts & reminds us that life passes away on Earth. They keep in mind this when they are told
The distribution of ashes comes from a ceremony of ages past. Christians who had committed grave faults performed public penance. On Ash Wednesday, the Bishop lucky the hair shirts which they were to wear in the coursework of the forty days of penance, & sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms from the earlier year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the church because of their sins — as Adam, the first man, was turned out of Paradise because of his disobedience. The penitents did not enter the church again until Maundy Thursday after having won reconciliation by the toil of forty days’ penance & sacramental absolution. Later, all Christians, whether public or secret penitents, came to get ashes out of devotion. In earlier times, the distribution of ashes was followed by a penitential procession.
Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, & they help us generate a spirit of humility & sacrifice.