Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is literally marked on the forehead of observant Christians. During Lent, the Church asks us to surrender ourselves to prayer and to the reading of Scripture, to fasting and to giving alms. 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. The ashes that we receive are a reminder of our own sinfulness, and many Catholics leave them on their foreheads all day as a sign of humility.
To start off the Lenten journey, I have gathered a few misconceptions and things I was not aware of earlier in my Catholic Faith Journey.
Is NOT a Holy Day of Obligation All Catholics are encouraged to attend Mass on Ash Wednesday in order to begin the Lenten season with the proper attitude and reflection, Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation.
It’s A Day of Fasting Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence. Unlike fasting in some religions, which require abstaining from all food and drink during fast dates, Catholics are permitted to eat one full meal and two smaller meals. Read here for the differences between abstinence and fasting.
Where does the Church get the Ashes? Ashes are from the Palm branches of the previous Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ return to Jerusalem when he was greeted by crowds waving palm branches. The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are burned palm branches mixed with holy water or oil.
You MUST keep the Ashes on ALL day Wearing ashes throughout the day on Ash Wednesday helps us remember why we received them in the first place. Those who feel uncomfortable wearing their ashes outside of church, or if they get in the way of your daily duties, should not worry about removing them. Also, if your ashes naturally fall off, or if you accidentally rub them off, there is no need to be concerned.
I do not claim to be nor am I a Catholic Expert . I am your average Catholic exploring the Faith and sharing things I have learned throughout my journey. I’ve included links to help you read explore into each subject and beyond. If you have further questions regarding the Church, I highly recommend you talk to a Priest, Deacon or other person of authority and proper training.
Have a Blessed Lent!
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