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Friday, April 19, 2024

Ash Wednesday: What to know as Catholics, Christians begin Lent

Across the world Wednesday [today], you may find people with ash marks on their foreheads and talking about what they will be giving up for the next 46 days.

It may appear odd, but it is a mark people that practice Catholicism, as well as Christianity, receive at mass on Ash Wednesday, one of the “most popular and important holy days” in the religion.

It also marks the beginning of the countdown towards Easter, as people that practice the religions will also be observing Lent leading up to the holiday.

Here’s what to know about Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent:

Ash Wednesday – also known as the Day of Ashes – is a day of repentance, when Catholics and Christians confess their sins and profess their devotion to God leading up to Easter.

According to USA Today, William Johnston, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton, says it is one of the most important time in Catholicism and Christianity, as it’s acknowledged by people who aren’t closely tied to their religion.

Why do people get ashes on Ash Wednesday?
During Mass on Ash Wednesday, a priest will mark a worshiper’s forehead with ashes in the shape of a cross, and will say “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

The ashes represent a person acknowledging and showing remorse for their sins, as Johnston said the tradition dates back to 1091.

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“The ashes is just sort of a ritual symbolic way to say ‘I’m beginning this journey of repentance and renewal, for the sake of my greater fidelity,'” he said.

After a person receives their ashes, they aren’t required to leave it on or take it off following Mass, but people typically leave them on for the rest of the day.

The ashes typically come from the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, which are burned and blessed before they are used.

When is Ash Wednesday in 2023?
Ash Wednesday is always six and a half weeks before Easter. Since Ash Wednesday is dependent on the date of Easter, it can occur as early as February 4 or as late as March 10. This year, Easter is April 9, so Ash Wednesday is February 22.

Can you eat meat on Ash Wednesday?
Catholics are not supposed to eat meat on Ash Wednesday, just as they aren’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays during Lent.

On Ash Wednesday, worshipers are also supposed to fast, allowing themselves to have one meal during the day. Children and elderly people are usually exempt from fasting and giving up meat.

What is Lent?
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, which is “a period of preparation to be able to celebrate” Easter, Johnston said.

The six-week period is meant to be celebrated with self-sacrifice, prayer and other religious activities leading up to Easter, the day believed to be when Jesus Christ rose from the dead to sit at the right hand of God. Johnston calls Lent a “period of purification and enlightenment.”

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“It is encouraged for (worshipers) to both root out the things that prevent them from making sort of a wholehearted, unreserved commitment to Christ, and cultivate and develop those things in their life that do help them do that,” Johnston said.

Typically, Lent is celebrated during the entire 46-day period, with 40 days of fasting and six Sundays, when fasting is not practiced.

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