During a Mass, a priest places the ashes on a worshiper's forehead in the shape of a cross. The ceremony, which also can be performed by a minister or pastor, is meant to show that a person belongs to Jesus Christ, and it also represents a person's grief and mourning for their sins — the same sins that Christians believe Jesus Christ gave his life for when he died on the cross.
Ash Wednesday is important because it marks the start of the Lenten period leading up to Easter, when Christians believe Jesus died and was resurrected. During this period, Christians show repentance and mourning for their sins, because they believe that Christ died for them.
When the priest applies the cross of ashes, he says to the worshiper: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” He also may say “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
It is not required that a worshiper wear the ashes for the rest of the day, although many Christians choose to do so. However, dining out or doing non-essential shopping are considered inappropriate on Ash Wednesday.
Traditionally, ashes used on Ash Wednesday are gathered up after palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned. They are then blessed before being used in the ceremony.
Palms are used on Palm Sunday in many Christian churches to symbolise Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before his crucifixion on Easter. Residents of Jerusalem are said to have waved palm fronds to celebrate his arrival.
Catholics are not supposed to eat meat on Ash Wednesday. They also are expected to give up meat on Fridays during Lent.
Catholics are expected to fast on Ash Wednesday. Fasting means consuming only one full meal a day; two smaller meals that don't together add up to a full meal also are allowed.
Children and the elderly are exempt from the fasting requirement on Ash Wednesday and during Lent.
Early Christians in Rome were sprinkled with ashes during Lent, but the Ash Wednesday practice of placing ashes on the forehead of Christians didn't begin until the Middle Ages.
Ash Wednesday falls on a different day each year, because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It can on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It can occur as early as February 4 or as late as March 10.
Ash Wednesday is one of the most important on the Christian calendar, because it marks the start of Lent.Lent is a six-week period of fasting, self-sacrifice and prayer observed by Christians each year to prepare for the celebration of Easter, when they believe Christ rose from the dead to sit at the right hand of God, his father.Lent is celebrated over 46 days. It includes 40 days of fasting and six Sundays, on which fasting is not practiced. The 40-day period has a special significance in the Old and New Testaments. For instance, Moses spent 40 days and nights with God on Mount Sinai in preparation to receive the Ten Commandments. Jesus also is depicted as being led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for 40 days.