Why Ash Wednesday?
Traditionally, the Christian Church has observed the 40 days before Easter as a time of penitence and spiritual self-examination.
Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, derives the name from the ancient practice of marking foreheads of worshippers with ashes from the unused palm branches of the previous year. Ashes historically have had a dual significance.
First, they are Old Testament symbols of sadness and humility. Job, in the midst of all his troubles, cried out to God from the ash heap.
The second symbolic meaning of ashes is a reminder of our mortality. Each of us faces the inevitability of physical death. Our bodies and material possessions eventually will turn to dust and ashes. This is a reminder that we dare not trust in things that crumble.
But Lent does not leave us on the ash heap. It begins with Ash Wednesday, but ends with Easter. Easter proclaims that, through Christ, God resurrects us from our dust and ash, makes us new creatures, and brings life out of death.
The Season of Lent
Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves. Lent is a forty-day period before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends the day before Easter. We skip Sundays when we count the forty days, because Sundays commemorate the Resurrection.