Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday Mass

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, celebrated next on February 18, 2015. The name “Ash Wednesday” comes from the blessed ashes that are applied to the forehead of the faithful who receive them as a sign of the beginning of the season of Lent, the season of penance and preparation for Easter.

Being marked with ashes is a public acknowledgement that one is a sinner, as we all are.

Ash Wednesday History

In the fourth century, public penitents dressed in sackcloth and were sprinkled with ashes to show their repentance. The practice of public penance gradually fell into disuse from the eighth to the tenth centuries. Our current celebration of Ash Wednesday began to develop in the eleventh century where it had become customary to receive ashes at the beginning of Lent. The Christian use of ashes is rooted in the Jewish custom of sprinkling ashes on the head as a sign of repentance.

Contrary to popular belief, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation although it is a spiritually and liturgically significant celebration which sets the penitential tone for the next six weeks before Easter.

Significance of Ashes

The ashes are a symbol of penance and reconciliation, which are used in the Catholic Church not only on Ash Wednesday, but also in the rite for the consecration of an altar and the dedication of a church. The ashes are the burnt palms used on Passion Sunday/Palm Sunday of the previous year. Many parishes allow for you to bring back your palms so that they may be used on the next Ash Wednesday.

Distribution of Ashes

On Ash Wednesday, ashes may be distributed during Mass, usually after the homily, or outside of Mass. When done outside of Mass ashes are distributed as part of a Liturgy of the Word. Ashes are typically placed on ones forehead in the shape of a cross. The traditional formula for placing the ashes on the forehead is, “Remember you are dust and will return to dust,” however, “Turn away from sin and live the gospel” is typically what is said today. Ash Wednesday is a day of fast and abstinence from meat.


  1. Jane Cisewski says

    At the Ash Wednesday service that I attended last night some people knelt after receiving ashes and some sat in their pew. Which is appropriate or doesn’t it matter?

  2. keji Falola says

    Can you,pls send me in detail. How can I known what week of Ferbuary every year does ASH WEDNESDAY use to fall on. Thank you

  3. Janie says

    My question is about scheduling weddings, quinceaneras, anniversary celebrations, baptisms during the lenten season. Are they allowed to be celebrated during that time of year? Should we abstain from setting these type of events during lent? The church is not wanting to do this for my daughter during lent.

    • says

      Hi Janie. There is no canonical restriction during Lent (except for certain days like Ash Wednesday) that baptisms, etc. could not be performed. This decision is on that each parish may make on its own (unless otherwise directed by the bishop). The reasons for this restriction are many. One is that the season of Lent is a penitential season. In keeping with themes of Lent a parish may choose not to celebrate baptism, weddings, etc. until Easter, a season of great joy that the Christ has risen. Another reason may be of simple logistics. For some parishes Lent can be a busy liturgical season and there are not enough people resources at the parish to be able to add additional events. So, technically yes these celebrations are allowed, but a bishop or pastor may choose not to do them.

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