This is the first day of the forty days of prayer and fasting commonly called the Lent. This feast is celebrated on the Wednesday in the seventh week before Easter or 46 days before Easter. This feast falls on different days depending on the date of Easter. Jesus also was led by the Spirit into the wilderness and He was tempted by the Devil for forty days there and in those days he ate nothing (Luke 4:1). Moses also fasted for forty days to repent for the making of the Golden Calf by the Israelites. Jesus did this fasting before starting His ministry. On Ash Wednesday Catholics between the age of 18 and 59 are required to observe fasting by consuming one full meal or two small meals that should not equal one full meal. Persons whose health condition does not permit fasting are exempted from fasting. Abstinence from meat and other non-vegetarian items should also be avoided on this day. In some countries Christians celebrate the previous day of Ash Wednesday as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, when they eat pancakes consisting of fatty food items.
On Ash Wednesday Catholic Christians attend church services in the morning. The priest ash is imposed in the sign of a cross on the forehead of every faithful. When applying the ash on the forehead of every faithful, the priest used to say that ‘Remember that you are made of dust and you shall return to dust’ or ‘Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel’. The ash for the ceremony was obtained by burning the palm leaves used and blessed during the previous year’s Palm Sunday and kept in the houses of the catholic people.
Dusting with ashes is a way of expressing repentance and sorrow for one’s sins and faults. We can study in the Holy Bible the practice of using ashes for repentance and mourning in many places especially in Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, Job 2:8, Daniel 9:3 and Mathew 11:21.
Ash Wednesday is celebrated on various dates in February and March. The dates of celebration of Ash Wednesday for the next year will be March 2, 2022. The earliest Ash Wednesday occurred on February 4, 1818 and it will occur on February 4, again only in the year 2285. The latest Ash Wednesday occurred on March 10, 1943 and will again occur on March 10, in the year 2038. Very rarely Ash Wednesday occurs on February 29, in the Leap year. It will occur again in the year 2096.
Ash Wednesday is celebrated by catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist and Anglican churches.