Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday Quick Facts - US

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2024 DateFebruary 14, 2024
2025 DateMarch 5, 2025

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday in
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Ash Wednesday marks the commencement of Lent, a 40-day period of prayer, penance, and fasting leading up to Easter. During the service, worshippers receive ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. This act serves as a visible symbol of human mortality and penance, thus reminding individuals of their need for repentance and forgiveness.

The tradition of marking with ashes has roots in ancient rituals but its inclusion as the central theme of the liturgical observance, Ash Wednesday, is believed to have originated in the 8th century. In the United States, Ash Wednesday holds considerable importance for many Christians as they begin their Lenten journey. It is not a public holiday, but church services are held in many places. Schools, offices, and businesses remain open but accommodations are often made for those wishing to attend mass. The day often sees increased church attendance as even those who may not regularly attend church partake in this ritual.

In America, Ash Wednesday observances typically to follow similar patterns. Services held on this day usually include Scripture readings, hymns, a sermon, and the imposition of ashes. The ashes are usually obtained by burning the previous year's Palm Sunday palms, mixed with oil, forming a paste. While traditionally intended for baptized Christians, many U.S. churches offer ashes to anyone willing, regardless of their denomination. Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, is determined by the date of Easter. It typically falls between February 4 and March 11, depending on when Easter Sunday falls.

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Facts & quotes about Ash Wednesday

  • Ashes to ashes, dust to dust is a phrase commonly recited during Ash Wednesday services. It is meant to remind us of our mortality in that we began as dust and our bodies will ultimately return to dust after our death. This phrase originates from Genesis 3:19: ...for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
  • The day before Ash Wednesday is Mardi Gras. As this is the last day before the start of Lent, it is often accompanied by partying and celebrations. The idea being that it is the last day to indulge before the Lenten period of moderation and repentance.
  • Ashes symbolize the dust that we eventually become after are death. This is a reminder us of our mortality and that our time on earth is limited.
  • Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation. It is not explicitly in the Bible, however the Bible does record accounts of people in the Old Testament using dust and ashes as symbols and repentance or mourning (Daniel 9:3, Esther 4:1, Job 2:8, 2 Samuel 13:19).
  • Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. -Steve Jobs

Top things to do in the US for Ash Wednesday

  • Fast during Ash Wednesday to commemorate Jesus fasting for forty days in the desert. Catholics are specifically instructed to not eat meat and are only permitted to eat one full meal. However they may have 2 snacks in the form of some food in the morning and evening.
  • Make fiber-rich vegetarian versions of popular dishes. Some good ideas are Veggie Burgers, Vegetarian Chili and salads with Tempeh. The fiber will help keep you feeling full - useful if you fast for the rest of the day!
  • Go to your local parish to get ashes and reflect on your own mortality and sinfulness. Non-Christians are also welcome to get ashes.
  • Rent a movie that reflects on Mortality or Repentance. Some suggestions age: Les Miserables (2012), Dorian Gray (2009), What Dreams May Come (1998), Flatliners (1990) and The Seventh Seal (1957).
  • Discuss mortality, repentance and the meaning of life with your friends or with a church group.

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