Ash Wednesday: What is it and How is it Celebrated?

Ash Wednesday: What is it and How is it Celebrated?

Rylee Meyer

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. This holiday occurs six and a half weeks before Easter and is celebrated by the Christian and Catholic Churches. These 46 days represent the time Jesus fasted in the desert before his crucifixion. Ash Wednesday represents the need for reconciliation with God and is a reminder of human mortality. The holiday often includes fasting and ashes being placed in the shape of a cross on the forehead. 

Ash Wednesday dates back all the way to the 11th century in the Roman Empire. Ash Wednesday is one of the most celebrated masses in the church, behind Christmas and Easter. On this holiday, Christians confess their sins and declare their devotion to God. In Ancient Rome, penitents (wrongdoers seeking forgiveness from God), would dress in sackcloth and be sprinkled with ashes on the first day of Lent. The holiday did not become popular among all Catholics until 1091. This was when Pope Urban II pronounced “on Ash Wednesday, everyone—clergy and laity, men and women—will receive ashes.”

The United States celebrates this holiday just like many other countries around the world. Americans attend mass and seek the Lord through prayer, reading scripture, and practicing self-control by fasting. In Catholic schools around America, students are presented with ashes in a cross on their forehead and told to keep it on all day. These ashes are blessed and drawn on by a priest. 

While seeing people walking around with ashes on their forehead may be surprising, you now know what it means and why so many Christians around the United States, and the world, do it.