Today (February 22) marks an important date in the Christian calendar – Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday is a holy day of prayer and fasting in many Western Christian denominations. It is preceded by Shrove Tuesday and marks the first day of Lent (the six weeks of penitence before Easter). It is observed by Catholics in the Roman Rite, Lutherans, Moravians, Anglicans, Methodists, Nazarenes, as well as by some churches in the Reformed tradition (including certain Congregationalist, Continental Reformed, and Presbyterian churches).
Ash Wednesday is traditionally observed with fasting and abstinence from meat in a number of Christian denominations. As it is the first day of Lent, many Christians begin Ash Wednesday by marking a Lenten calendar, praying a Lenten daily devotional, and making a Lenten sacrifice that they will not partake of until the arrival of Eastertide.
Many Christians attend special Ash Wednesday church services, at which churchgoers receive ash on their foreheads. Ash Wednesday derives its name from this practice, which is accompanied by the words, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or the dictum “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are prepared by burning palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations.
The religious holiday follows Shrove Tuesday – known by many as Pancake Day – and signals the coming of Lent.
After this period, Christians around the world will celebrate Good Friday and Easter, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus.
But what exactly is Ash Wednesday and where did its name derive from?
What is Ash Wednesday and who observes the day?
Ash Wednesday is a holy day of prayer, fasting and repentance. It is preceded by Shrove Tuesday and falls on the first day of Lent, the six weeks of penitence before Easter.
The date always falls 46 days before Easter Sunday and is chiefly observed by Catholics and Christians.
The Lenten period is one of reflection and repentance of sin, with those who observe it expected to seek reconciliation with God.
Many choose to give up an indulgence, or fast, during Lent as a representation of the Temptation of Christ as he fasted for 40 days and nights in the Judaean Desert.
Why is it called Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday gets its name from early traditions in the Christian Church in Rome, when penitents and sinners would partake in a period of public penance.
During this, they were sprinkled with ashes and dressed in a sackcloth until they were reconciled with church-goers on Maundy Thursday.
This practice had faded by the 10th Century, whereby Lent was marked by placing ashes in the shape of a cross on observers’ foreheads.
These ashes traditionally come from burning palms used on Palm Sunday.
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IWeb TEFL Team