Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Christian Tradition - Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent for Western Christian churches.
It's a day of penitence to clean the soul before the Lent fast.

Ash Wednesday services:

The service draws on the ancient Biblical traditions of covering one's head with ashes, wearing sackcloth, and fasting.

The mark of ashes:

In Ash Wednesday services churchgoers are marked on the forehead with a cross of ashes as a sign of penitence and mortality. The use of ashes is very symbolic.

"God our Father, you create us from the dust of the earth.
Grant that these ashes may be for us a sign of our penitence,
and a symbol of our mortality."
Traditional Ash Wednesday prayer

Anointing with ashes:
The minister or priest marks each worshipper on the forehead, and says remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return, or a similar phrase based on God's sentence on Adam in Genesis 3:19.

Symbolism of the ashes:
The marking of their forehead with a cross made of ashes reminds each churchgoer that:

Death comes to everyone
They should be sad for their sins
They must change themselves for the better.

The shape of the mark and the words used are symbolic in other ways:
The cross is a reminder of the mark of the cross made at baptism.
The phrase often used when the ashes are administered reminds Christians of the doctrine of original sin.

Where the ashes come from:
The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are made by burning the palm crosses that were blessed on the previous Palm Sunday.

From Palm Sunday to Ash Wednesday:

Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, so when the crosses used in the Palm Sunday service are converted to ashes, the worshippers are reminded that defeat and crucifixion swiftly followed triumph.

Using the ashes to mark the cross on the believer's forehead symbolizes that through Christ's death and resurrection, all Christians can be free from sin.


Lent is a way of paying attention to our own lives. We receive the sign of the cross on our foreheads to focus our attention on who we really are. In this way we remind ourselves that we are bound for death—and that we are bound to the death of Jesus Christ. Ash Wednesday and the whole of Lent provide a time to focus our attention on the mystery at the heart of the Christian life: that through death, the death of Jesus Christ, we have entered new life.

Turning to Christ means turning also to all our neighbors who suffer. According to Isaiah, fasting and praying that brings us to act on behalf of these neighbors is the fast that is acceptable to God.


The Season of Lent symbolizes 'Retreating Into the Wilderness with Jesus.'

Lent is a forty-day period before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday. We skip Sundays when we count the forty days, because Sundays commemorate the Resurrection. This year Lent begins on February 22, 2012 and ends on the day before Easter.

In the Roman Catholic Church, Lent officially ends at sundown on Holy Thursday, with the beginning of the mass of the Lord’s Supper.


Why exactly do Christians gather on this otherwise unremarkable Wednesday?
With Ash Wednesday, we enter a time of Lenten discipline, traditionally a time of fasting and prayer in preparation for receiving or reaffirming baptism at Easter.

No comments: