Ash Wednesday

2.3 ash wed canva

Ash Wednesday is a Christian holy day of fasting, sacrifice, and prayer that falls six weeks before Easter Sunday – March 2, 2022. Jesus followers of various sects and groups frequently forego a regular meal schedule, instead eating just one normal-sized meal and two extremely modest ones in a given 24-hour period, notably on Good Friday. The most devoted Christians have been known to eat even less, confining themselves to bread and water to commemorate Christ’s 40-day, 40-night fast as related in the Gospels. Alcohol abstinence is also emphasised on Ash Wednesday and during the Lenten season.


This year, Ash Wednesday falls six and a half weeks before Easter, on February 17. Ash Wednesday, observed by Christians as a holy day of fasting and prayer, marks the beginning of the Lenten season.


We know that Christians have had to repent for their failings or wrongdoings for over two thousand years. The practise of sprinkling ashes on one’s head, on the other hand, is relatively new, having been attributed to Pope Gregory I the Great (circa 540-604 A.D.), who accompanied the ceremonious symbolism with a verse that loosely translates to “Remember that you came from dust and that you will return to dust”. In the twentieth century, it became increasingly customary for a priest to say, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”.

In recent years, some clergy have used Ash Wednesday to participate in some guerrilla evangelism, going out into their communities and handing out ashes to passers-by on sidewalks and even vehicles stopped at traffic lights.

The overarching point is that when the faithful forego some physiological comforts, they might enter into a state of penitence, acknowledging their past sins and the sacrifice that Jesus made to purify them of those sins. Palm ashes on the head, either sprinkled over the scalp or smeared in crucifix shape onto the forehead, is the physical embodiment of the day, provided by priests and pastors.

We believe that this information is useful even for atheists, agnostics, and followers of other faiths, because Christians who wear the forehead cross wear it all day on Ash Wednesday, including to work and school. So, if you see it, understand where it came from and what it means in case you make an uneducated remark. Plus, think about it: you’ve learnt something new about a buddy or co-worker!


2nd century A.D.: The ‘Letter’ of the Law

The ‘Letter’ of the Law Saint Irenaeus writes to Pope St. Victor in the second century A.D. concerning a disagreement between factions about the duration of Lent.

1500: Martin Luther and Fasting

Martin Luther emphasises that, while repressing one’s body’s desires is a desirable thing, one should never fast in order to gain favour with God or the church.

1970: When in Rome

Lent is defined by the Roman Rite to finish on Holy Thursday evening, 44 days following Ash Wednesday.

There are no ifs, ands, or ‘butts’ in 1984

Ash Wednesday is designated as National No Smoking Day in the Republic of Ireland.


Christians commemorate Ash Wednesday as a solemn day of self-reflection and repentance. On this day, several customs are observed, with fasting being the predominant observance as the day marks the beginning of the Lenten season.

As a major rite practised by Roman Catholics, ashes are applied to the forehead as a sign of contrition. These ashes are made from the burning of palm branches left over from previous Palm Sunday celebrations. For blessing the ashes, incense and holy water are utilised.

Some Christians brush the ashes off their hands before leaving a church to symbolise a ‘cleaning of their sins’. Others wear the ashes as a way of “carrying the cross out into the world”.


The day’s fast

Many Christians fast on bread and water for the whole twenty-four hours of Ash Wednesday, believing that the experience of emptiness in the body will offer a perspective of requiring God for nourishment, much as Jesus was said to have done by fasting in the desert to seek his father’s presence. Whether you are not constrained by religious obligations, do it without obligation to see if fasting offers you an epiphany!

You will be given ashes to place on your forehead

If you are a Christian, find time to have your spiritual leader lay the cross of ashes on you, and show your friends and acquaintances that you are serious about your penance. If not, ask a few questions about faith to a buddy who is carrying the cross today. They’ll probably say something fascinating.
Reflect in your own unique way

Religion, like any serious meditation or thinking, is a personal experience. Take a few deep, steady breaths and consider what comes to mind when you consider the big picture of your life and your role in the cosmos. Take your time and consider how you truly feel.


A new form of “indulgence”

Consider the Catholic confession, in which a priest instructs a congregant to say a series of specific prayers in exchange for forgiveness of a sin, a surviving Christian “indulgence” from the past, and you’ll see that indulgences can be transactional in nature, something Martin Luther objected to loudly enough to result in his excommunication.

“I know how to read it!”

Luther was an outspoken opponent of sacerdotalism, the concept that clerics are to be mediators between God and humanity through the Bible, claiming that all baptised Christians are members of a broader holy “priesthood”.

That’s quite a bit of translating…

Luther’s translation of the Bible into the German vernacular had a variety of repercussions on his time’s culture, including the standardisation of the German language, the beginning of an English translation, and the reworking of translation technique in general.

Time to partner up

Martin Luther’s marriage to Katharina von Bora, a former nun at the time, established the ability of Protestant clergy to marry (a practise distinct from married individuals becoming clergy).

It’s not all roses and doves

Luther eventually exhibited a strong animosity not just for Jews, but also for Roman Catholics, Anabaptists, and nontrinitarian Christians in his works.


Time to take a breather and consider your options:
As we’ve seen, Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, a season in which many people forego certain comforts. Living without these pleasures allows us to think on what is truly essential in our life.

It’s a terrific time to spend time with relatives

Churchgoers frequently attend services with their families, which leads to a natural transition into selecting as a group how they will fast and pray from Ash Wednesday until Easter. If you were not raised Christian but are considering conversion, or if you know someone who is, today is an excellent day to have a religious talk with family.

Knowledge about Christianity is useful

Whether you like it or not, Christian beliefs and practise have had a significant impact on Western history, up to and including the creation of the United States and other countries. Learning about the links between Christianity and society, from the Crusades to the inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, will give you an advantage in a variety of scenarios.

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