This year’s Ash Wednesday is on February 18, which is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity. It is observed among Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, and Presbyterians, among others. This is a day of fasting for most Christians. The only other day of fasting during Lent is on Good Friday.
During Ash Wednesday, Christians receive the imposition of the ash on their foreheads as a sign of repentance. This rite uses the ashes made from palm fronds blessed on the previous Palm Sunday. The ashes are prepared with holy water and scented by exposing to incense.
With the marking of ashes in the shape of a cross on the forehead, the priest may recite either:
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”
“Repent, and believe in the Gospel”.
During the 1969 revision of the Roman rite, the alternate formula “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” was introduced and given priority.
The physical imposition of the ashes on the forehead of a participant is not the foremost reason why Christians receive ashes. They receive ashes as a symbol of atonement and attrition and to remind us that God is compassionate and forgiving to those who invoke upon Him with a remorseful heart. The Christian community expects that people of other sectors respect this important ritual.