Ash Wednesday and Lent – What is it?
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, a season of fasting that ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. The date of Ash Wednesday depends on the date of Easter (How is the date for Easter determined?). The day is traditionally observed by Roman Catholics, Orthodox Churches, Episcopalians, Anglicans, and a few Protestant denominations, although each church and individual observes different traditions. For this article, we will be focusing on the Roman Catholic traditions.
The day is named after the practice of placing ashes on the forehead. The ashes used in this ritual are typically the burned palm branches of the previous year’s Palm Sunday. The ashes are prepared and blessed in accordance with liturgical tradition. Then a priest or clergy marks congregant’s foreheads with ashes, often in the shape of a cross. The priest or clergy then says, “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust you shalt return” or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the 40-day observance of Lent, “a season of self-examination, fasting and penance in preparation for our Easter Day observance.”1
Ash Wednesday and Lent – Biblical Support
The Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday and Lent. The traditional purpose of lent is penitential preparation, which means “feeling regret for one’s sins; repentant.” During the weeks between Ash Wednesday and Lent, observers of Lent give up a luxury as form of penance.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus spent 40 days of fasting in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13). The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan in order to show us that temptation doesn’t need to end in failure. Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19) also fasted for 40-day periods.
Ashes were used in biblical times as symbols of repentance and mourning (Genesis 18:27; 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; Matthew 11:21).
Ash Wednesday and Lent – What Protestants can learn.
Although many Protestants do not observe Ash Wednesday or Lent, we can learn from the concepts of them and implement the some points into our lives. Here are some suggestions: