So, What Is Ash Wednesday, Anyway?
Today (sic), I’m sure you’ll notice people walking around with crosses smudged on their foreheads. Maybe you’ll think, “Oh, right. Ash Wednesday, which is…some kind of religious day.” And you’d be right—it is some kind of religious day, and if you want to know more, here are the what’s, whys, and wherefores of the Christian tradition of smearing ashes on your forehead.
What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday has been around since at least the 11th century. It marks the beginning of the Lenten season in many Christian denominations and takes place 46 days before Easter. The concept behind Ash Wednesday is penance. It is a day to confess sins, ask forgiveness from God, and ponder the transitory nature of our physical bodies.
Ash Wednesday isn’t mentioned specifically in the Bible, but back in the early days of Christianity, egregious sinners were expected to spend the weeks preceding Easter in sackcloth and ashes, doing serious repenting so they’d be pure enough to take Easter communion. At some point, someone seems to have realized that we are all sinners, and everyone started getting ashes sprinkled or daubed on their heads.
How does Ash Wednesday work?
The specifics vary from church to church, but if you go to a Catholic mass on Ash Wednesday, the priest will usually give a sermon related to the theme of repentance, or Lent in general. Then you’ll line up to have ashes applied to your forehead. The priest will most likely say something like, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” before applying ash, typically in a cross shape, to your forehead. The ashes usually come from burned palm leaves left over from last year’s Palm Sunday observance.
Who celebrates Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday is observed in all kinds of Christian denomination: Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Moravians, Nazarenes, and many more take part. It’s a popular day to go to mass—some priests report Ash Wednesday is the most heavily attended mass of the year, drawing more people than even Christmas or Easter.
As for why it’s so popular, your guess is as good as anyone’s. It’s not particularly vital as a religious holiday, but people like the ritual. “There’s something of a wonder about it because you’re marking yourself with the cross,” Father Anthony Arinello, a chaplain at Colorado School of Mine, opines. “Maybe it’s the humility of it; not just receiving the ashes, but receiving the little prayer we do as people receive ashes.”
Fasting on Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday is also one of two days when Catholics are expected to fast for Lent. It’s not a hardcore fast, though: You can’t eat meat (fish is OK) but you are permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that “together are not equal to a full meal.”
Ash Wednesday also marks the beginning of the Lenten season, where you are expected to abstain from some small pleasure or indulgence until Easter. What you sacrifice is up to you, but it’s not fair to give up something you don’t enjoy.
Article by Stephen Johnson for Lifehacker©
Source: What Even Is Ash Wednesday, Anyway? (msn.com)