Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday in the Latin Church is the day for being reminded of and contemplating our mortality.  The priest will sign our forehead with ashes and remind us that we ‘are dust and to dust we shall return”.

Ashes

The ashes are made by the burning of palms from last year’s Palm Sunday.   We might recall that in the Old Testament those who did penance would often do so in sackcloth and ashes.  These ashes are blessed. Most of the faithful will leave the ashes on throughout the day as a public witness that we have entered into a penitential season.

Fasting

Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence as is Good Friday. Catholics from the age of 18-60 are to do this. The Church fast is considered to be one full meal with two smaller snacks that do not together equal the regular full meal.  The faithful, from the age of 14, are also to abstain from meat on this day and on all Fridays throughout the Lenten Season.

This 40 day penitential season leading up to Easter has been a tradition in the Church since about the 4th century.  It has evolved some over the years as to the practices recommended. At one time it was more restrictive. Sundays are not considered days of Lent or of penance.  The word for Lent came through words denoting the spring of the lengthening of the days of light.  The very Light of the World will be commemorated at Easter.

some more information may be found on the USCCB website:

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/catholic-information-on-lenten-fast-and-abstinence.cfm