40 days before Easter, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the Easter penitential period – and thus the Easter festival circle.
On Ash Wednesday, Catholic Christians have a cross drawn on their foreheads with ashes in a service – a symbol of the transience of all life: “Remember, man, that you are dust and return to dust again.“
The reception of the ash cross has been attested since the 11th century. Even in ancient times and in the Old Testament, ashes were considered a sign of nullity and impermanence. By the way: the consecrated ashes are the remains of burnt palm branches.
Strict fasting day
In addition to Good Friday, Ash Wednesday is the only prescribed strict fasting day in the Catholic Church; on it, according to church penitential practice, the believer should only eat full meals once and refrain from meat dishes.
Many Christians begin their “Lent” on this day symbolically and deliberately as a preparation for Easter as a celebration of the resurrection and the triumph of life over death. So you make a free decision to completely abstain from alcohol or sweets from Ash Wednesday to Easter, you stop smoking or fasting.
Ash Wednesday in the Catholic Church includes the Ash Cross. Usually it is drawn directly on the forehead of believers. Since the coronavirus pandemic, this has only been possible in a modified form. The Vatican has issued a corresponding decree, which provides for the distribution without touch and without a word. After the blessing of the ashes with holy water, the priest speaks one of the words of interpretation for the whole community: “Remember, man, that you are dust and will return to dust again” or “Convert and believe in the gospel.” With disinfected hands, the ashes are then sprinkled on the head of the faithful. The mask requirement applies.
What is the purpose of Ash Wednesday?
What does Ash Wednesday mean biblically?
Is Ash Wednesday a Catholic thing?
What are the rules for Ash Wednesday?