Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which is the 40-day period (not including Sundays) of fasting and repentance leading up to Easter.
The Day of Ashes is a Christian holiday that commemorates the repentance of sin. Many churches will hold Ash Wednesday services today where participants will have ashes placed on their foreheads in the shape of a cross in recognition of their need to repent.
During Lent, Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, self-denial and spiritual discipline. While the Bible does not reference Lent, the practice of observing Lent has become a standard around the world.
Interesting facts about Ash Wednesday
- Ash Wednesday occurs 46 days before Easter. Since Easter moves around on the calendar, so does Ash Wednesday. The earliest day the holiday can occur is Feb. 4 and the latest is March 10.
- The holiday derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches blessed on the previous year's Palm Sunday.
- Although there is no biblical reference to Ash Wednesday or Lent, Christians date the tradition back to 325 A.D.
- During the Middle Ages, ashes were sprinkled on the head rather than drawn in a cross on the forehead.
- Originally, the first day of Lent was the day when public penitents at Rome began their penance. They were sprinkled with ashes, dressed in sackcloth and required to remain apart from the community until Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter).
- In the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the only days when fasting is still universally required.