Ashes will be marked on the foreheads of the faithful who attend services today as Christians especially Catholics all over the world start the 40-day season of Lent with Ash Wednesday.
Ashes remind people about their origin and destiny. “We are reminded that we are dust and unto dust we shall return…”, is the mantra of the day. It symbolizes the call for repentance and the need to reunite oneself with the Lord.
The priest or a lay minister will impose ashes in the form of the cross on the forehead of each churchgoer, saying, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” or, “Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”
The ashes used today are the ashes of burnt palms blessed during last year’s Palm Sunday. The ashes are sprinkled with holy water or oil and smoked with incense.
Catholics aged 18 to 60 with the exception of ailing people are obliged to fast or to eat less on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday which is April 14 this year. It involves eating only one complete meal and two smaller ones, while praying more.
During the 40-day period of Lent, Christians commemorate the central mystery of our faith: the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It culminates on Holy Week, which starts this year on April 9 (Palm Sunday).
Although not all Christians mark the Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season that follows, all celebrate the Good Friday and Easter Sunday which is at the centre of faith. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ, his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection.
Of the 46 days until Easter, six are Sundays.