10 Things to Know About Ash Wednesday

By Margretta daLomba Dobbs

I have often been told that many believe Lent is a dark time in the faith tradition. Their observation of being “marked” and then having to fast by giving up meat is almost unthinkable! Yet this tradition of fasting marks the beginning of Lent (which takes place on February 10 this year) ,which is a 40-day season of fasting that is considered preparation for Holy Week and the celebration of Easter.  Lent is celebrated as the season of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday; seen as an opportunity to change what we ought within ourselves but have not.  Many Christians will make personal vows of abstinence during Lent while others vow not to gossip or try to be less selfish. However, all are expected to spend more time in prayer and reflection, as Lent is considered by many to be an opportunity for spiritual transformation. But before this season of reflection and meaning begins, Ash Wednesday must take place. Here are ten facts about Ash Wednesday you may not know: 

1) While Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, all Roman Catholics are encouraged to attend Mass on this day in order to mark the beginning of the Lenten season.

2) The distribution of ashes reminds us of our own mortality and calls us to repentance. In the early Church, Ash Wednesday was the day on which those who had sinned, and who wished to be readmitted to the Church, would begin their public penance.

3) The Christian holy day marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day season of fasting that is considered preparation for Holy Week and the celebration of Easter.

4) As described in the book of Matthew, Lent mirrors Jesus’ own 40-day period of fasting.

5)  Although there is no Biblical reference to Ash Wednesday or Lent, Christians date the tradition back to 325 AD.

6) Observers have ashes placed on their foreheads in the shape of the cross as the words from Genesis 3:19 are spoken: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

7) Fasting requirements during Lent for Catholics are outlined by the Code of Canon Law are: Starting at age 14, we do not eat meat on Fridays, as well as fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday is required. That means eating just one full meal a day or 2 that are the equivalent of 1 full for individuals. (This is not required if one has health issues)

8) Why do you do this? As a reminder of my own sinfulness and that the time to think about my spirituality, life and what I can do to improve.

9) Where do the ashes come from? The ashes are made by burning the blessed palms that were distributed the previous year on Palm Sunday.

10) Why do people leave them on their head? As a sign of humility.


Margretta daLomba Dobbs is the Director of Campus Ministry at Christian Brothers Univeristy

Posted by Josh Colfer at 2:23 PM

The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.

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