Center for Spiritual Life

Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent

On a Wednesday during February or March each year you may see people walking around campus with a large black cross on their foreheads. Ash Wednesday marks the start of the forty days of Lent prior to Easter. Forty is a special number in both the Jewish and Christian sacred texts. The Jewish people journeyed for 40 years on their way to the Promised Land. In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus spends forty days praying in the desert before he begins his public ministry. Christians have traditionally used this symbolic period as a time of preparation for Easter – one of Christianity’s most important feasts and holy days.

The significance of the ashes for Christians is two-fold. It is a stark reminder of our mortality. In some traditions when the ashes are placed on the forehead the priest, pastor, or lay minister says, “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” Another meaning of Lent is expressed in the words sometimes used with the ashes, “Repent and Believe in the Good News.” These words invite Christians to change our lives and be more faithful to the message of Jesus. The receiving of the ashes and this ancient call to repent and change one’s life is meaningful to many Christians. In many Christian traditions, Lent is a time to give up things that are no longer helpful to society, or to ourselves individually, or to take on something that might benefit us or society. As an example, some people may choose to work on giving up their anger for Lent; other Christians and churches have a “carbon fast” during Lent to reduce their carbon footprint. At the heart of Lent is reorienting our lives towards God and towards the good of our neighbor.

So, if you see people with dark crosses on their foreheads, do not be alarmed. They are only your fellow Brandeisians of the Christian faith who are trying in their own way to draw closer to God.

Find out the date of Ash Wednesday this year!