Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent. We celebrate Ash Wednesday on the 6th March.
On Ash Wednesday, people will have ashes placed on their heads, in the sign of the cross, as a symbol of repentance. This is one of the most important holy days in the liturgical calendar. Ash Wednesday opens the season of Lent, a season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. The Ninevites used to do their penance in a sack cloth and ashes. Christians who had committed grave faults performed public penance. The sinners were turned out of the church because of their sins – just as Adam was turned out of the Garden of Eden. The penitents did not return church again until Maundy Thursday, after forty day’s penance.
The Ashes symbolise the dust from which God made us. As the ashes are placed on our forehead, the following words are said,
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
The ashes used in this ceremony come from the blessed burnt palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday Mass. Palms are a living plant – a symbol of victory and triumph. They are burned to dust and become a symbol of sorrow and repentance. Ashes also symbolise grief, the grief that we have sinned and fractured our relationship with God. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented with incense. While they symbolise penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those with repentant hearts.
To find out more about Ash Wednesday, you can view this Busted Halo video at: YouTube.
This video can also be found in Unit 31 of the Understanding Faith resource.