Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a 40-day period of penance and fasting in preparation for Easter.

During Lent Christians attempt to go back to the basics and renew their commitment to Christ. They often do special works of charity in addition to fasting. In the Roman Catholic tradition, abstinence from meat on Fridays is a part of the Lenten tradition as well as a strict fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

On Ash Wednesday, you might see Catholics and some other Christians walking around campus with a large cross of ashes on their foreheads. This tradition comes to the Christian church from the Jewish scripture. In the book of the prophet Jonah, a fast is proclaimed and the people put on sackcloth and ashes as a sign of their desire to repent. 

The church makes the ashes by burning the palms left over from last year's Palm Sunday celebration, thus tying this gesture to Holy Week. This outward mark is a reminder of our mortality as well.

While imposing the ashes, the priest says, "Remember, you are dust and unto dust you shall return." This solemn ritual is a call for Christians to turn their lives around and to be more faithful to Christ.