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Ash Wednesday signals the beginning of Lent

By Catholic Online
March 8th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In the year 2011, Lent begins on March 9, better known Ash Wednesday. Catholics traditionally observe Ash Wednesday by going to mass to receive ashes on our foreheads, and to give something up until Easter.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of church congregants as a sign of repentance. The ashes are typically gathered after the Palm Crosses from the previous year's Palm Sunday have been burned. The ashes are sometimes mixed with holy water or oil and then anointed on the forehead in the sign of a cross as a sign of repentance.

At Masses and services of worship on this day, ashes are imposed on the foreheads of the faithful (or on the tonsure spots, in the case of some clergy). The priest, minister, or in some cases officiating layperson, marks the forehead of each participant with black ashes in the shape of a cross, which the worshipper traditionally retains until it wears off. The act echoes the ancient Near Eastern tradition of throwing ashes over one's head to signify repentance before God (as related in the Bible).

In some of the low church traditions, other practices are sometimes added or substituted, as other ways of symbolizing the confession and penitence of the day. For example, in one common variation, small cards are distributed to the congregation on which people are invited to write a sin they wish to confess. These small cards are brought forth to the altar table where they are burned.

Ash Wednesday is typically observed by fasting, abstaining from meat and repentance. The day is also used for contemplating one's transgressions and sins. Roman Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are permitted to consume only one full meal, which may be supplemented by two smaller meals, which together should not equal a full meal on Ash Wednesday as a form of fasting.

Ash Wednesday is a serious observance in many different branches of Christianity, such as the Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans. 

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