ASH WEDNESDAY marks the start of the Lenten season, a 40-day period when the Catholic Church commemorates the passion and death of Jesus Christ.
During the celebration of Holy Mass on Ash Wednesday, the priest blesses the ashes made from burnt palm used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. He mixes the ashes with holy oil or water and imposes on the forehead of churchgoers with the sign of the cross.
As the priest imposes the ashes, he says either: “Remember man you are dust, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19), or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).
The ashes serve to remind the faithful of their mortality and humanity. They are also a biblical symbol of repentance, sorrow and humility.
Throughout the Lenten season, the faithful are called to a life of penance and conversion. They are also urged to avail of the sacrament of reconciliation.
Healthy Catholics aged 18 to 60 are also obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday by eating only one full meal plus two smaller meals. Catholics from 14 years old are also required to abstain from eating meat, not merely as acts of penance or self-denial but as a way to strengthen their will.
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