Tradition behind Ash Wednesday

Hollywood, MD- Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the first day of the season of Lent for Western Christianity. The Lenten season is the 40 days prior to Easter (Sundays are not counted) and it’s a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. Lent symbolizes the days which lead up to Jesus' crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, when Christ spent 40 days and nights alone in the Judaean Desert being tempted by Satan.

During some Ash Wednesday services, the minister or priest will lightly rub the sign of the cross with ashes onto the foreheads of worshipers. Not all Christian churches observe Ash Wednesday or Lent. They are mostly observed by the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican denominations, and also by Roman Catholics. Eastern Orthodox churches observe Lent during the six weeks or 40 days preceding Palm Sunday with fasting continuing during the Holy Week of Orthodox Easter. Lent for Eastern Orthodox churches begins on Monday (called Clean Monday) and Ash Wednesday is not observed.

Most believers tend to give up something until Lent ends to "purify" their bodies. For children it could be something such as chocolate, sweets, television or certain toys, while adults tend to give up things such as alcohol, coffee or smoking. Some households may give up meat, eggs and dairy products. Many believers use the time to volunteer at a charity or donate money to a good cause.

The Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday or the custom of Lent. The Bible does record accounts of people in the Old Testament using dust and ashes as symbols of repentance and/or mourning.

Contact Joy Shrum at

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