The name Ash Wednesday derives from the Biblical significance of ashes. Various fragments of the Bible mention ashes as a way of expressing grief and sorrow for sins. For example, Job who suffered from terrible miseries and false consolers is said in the Bible to have sat in among the ashes. It was also a practice in those days to scatter the ashes upon oneself in symbol of repentance. The ashes were, indeed, associated with fasting, and so it is today in many Christian denominations.
On Ash Wednesday, believers attending church services are tangibly reminded the meaning of the ashes. Priests and other religious leaders ceremonially place the ashes on believers’ foreheads. The ashes come from burning palms used on Palm Sunday. They are also mixed with holy water and in such texture positioned in the symbol of a cross on the participant’s head. The ceremony is often related with the words: ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel’, or ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ All of these actions aim at reminding the Christians that we are all sinners and should display sincere repentance for our wrongdoings. Some of the believers leave the mark of the cross on their foreheads while leaving the church in order to carry the sign into the world. Others decide to wash it away which symbolically means that they are since that moment spiritually clean.
Ash Wednesday is also strongly associated with fasting and abstinence. Because the first day of Lent is also the first day of the 40-day fast, its importance is often emphasized then. In the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is connected with abstinence from meat, but some Christians decide to fast for the whole day not eating anything or eating only bread and drinking only water.
Did you know?
Since 2007 an interesting practice can be observed in some Christian Churches in the United States on Ash Wednesday. Some members of different Christian denominations participate in an activity called ‘Ashes to Go.’ The clergy go outside of their churches and distribute the ashes to various passers-by in the parks, city centres, sidewalks, or even to people sitting in their cars and waiting for the green light. Some people think of this practice as of an act of evangelism. In 2013 churches in other countries have joined the observance.
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