"Remember, man, that you are dust
And unto dust you shall return."
(Latin: Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.)
Ash Wednesday is officially known as �the day of Ashes�. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and comes after Shrove Tuesday or the last day of the Carnival season, Mardi Gras. According to the Western Calendar, it occurs forty days before Good Friday, which inevitably always is a Wednesday. It actually occurs 46 days before Easter but Lent is considered 40 days long, as Sundays are not counted among the days of Lent. The date varies from year to year depending on the date of Easter.
The time of Lent is a period to purge off your sins, a time to forsake sinful activities and habits. This purification process is commenced with Ash Wednesday.
When reading about the history of Ash Wednesday, the Bible does not preach or condemn Ash Wednesday. Most Catholics, orthodox denominations and a few Protestant denominations observe this procedure. This process gives you a chance to repent for your sins and to identify yourself as a Christian. But remember that not the ritual but the truth of your heart can earn you blessings from God.
The Ritual of Ashes
The celebrating priest or minister blesses the worshipper with ash at Masses and Services on this day. The priest marks the forehead of the worshippers with black ash in the shape of a cross. Traditionally the worshipper retains this mark till sundown. Even a non-clergyman or a layperson can be the minister of ashes in many Christian churches.
The history of Ash Wednesday in the Roman Catholic Church is observed by abstinence from meat, fasting and repentance. Catholics between the age of 18 and 59 are allowed to consume only one full meal each day. This is the day to contemplate on transgressions to save you from the fire of the hell. The Anglican Book Of Common Prayers also delegates Ash Wednesday as a day of fasting.
Why The Forehead Is Marked With A Cross?
As per the Bible, a mark on a person�s forehead indicates his ownership. The mark of cross on the forehead is a symbol of the person�s belonging to Jesus Christ, who died on a cross.
The History of Ash
The ashes used to mark the forehead of the worshipper are prepared by burning palm leaves from the previous year�s Palm Sunday celebrations and then they are mixed with olive oil. The story behind the use of ashes from the previous year�s Palm Sunday goes like, when Jesus entered Jerusalem people rejoiced his arrival by waving palm fronds without realizing that he has come to die for their sins. The use of palms from previous year�s Palm Sunday is aide memoir of Jesus� death for our sins.
Ash is the biblical symbol of mourning and penance. In the times of the Bible, one has to fast, wear sackcloth, sit in dust and ashes and put dust and ashes on one�s head. Today�s Ash Wednesday carries the vestiges of the ritual of fasting and marking one�s forehead with ash as a symbol of penance for one�s sin.
Though not an obligation, the history of Ash Wednesday teaches followers that it's the day to cleanse your mind and soul of sins at the feet of God.