Ashes Explained: Facts About Ash Wednesday Every Catholic Should Know

Caroline Perkins, ChurchPOP

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the Lenten season!

Caroline Perkins, ChurchPOP

The First Day of Lent

The penitential season of Lent lasts for 40 days (Sundays are not included in this number). This day is marked by the spiritual practices of fasting and abstinence. While it is not a holy day of obligation, we are invited to attend Mass, receive ashes, and listen to the message of the Gospel.

Did you know that anyone can receive ashes on Ash Wednesday?

Caroline Perkins, ChurchPOP

The Meaning of the Ashes

Catholics receive ashes on their foreheads with the words: “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19) Or, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

The ashes symbolize our mortality and ongoing need for repentance and redemption through Christ’s Passion–an outward sign of interior penance.

A Day of Reflection

Caroline Perkins, ChurchPOP

“Why does the Church place ashes on our foreheads today? Why does she remind us of death? Death which is the effect of sin! Why?…To prepare us for Christ’s Passover–for the paschal mystery of the Redeemer of the world.

‘Paschal mystery’ means what we profess in the Creed: “On the third day he rose again”!…Yes. Today, we need to hear the “you are dust and to dust you will return” of Ash Wednesday, so that the definitive truth of the Gospel, the truth about the Resurrection, will unfold before us: “believe in the Gospel.”

Set aside time to prepare more deeply for the entire season of Lent. While additional forms of penance (prayer, fasting, almsgiving) are not required by the Church, they are encouraged among the faithful.

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

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[See also: Your Lenten Guide for Fasting & Abstinence, According to Catholic Teaching]

[See also: “I Fainted From Fright”: Jesus’ Revelations About the Sins Committed During Mardi Gras]

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Caroline Perkins is the Brand Content Editor at Church POP. She lives in Denver with her husband and three children. She is also founder and designer of Be Still By Caroline and the author of "ABC Get to Know the Saints with Me!".



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