Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent for Western Christian churches.
It’s a day of penitence to clean the soul before the Lent fast
. Roman Catholic, Anglican, and some other churches hold special services at which worshippers are marked with ashes as a symbol of death and sorrow for sin.
Ash Wednesday services
The service draws on the ancient Biblical traditions of covering one’s head with ashes, wearing sackcloth, and fasting. The mark of ashes In Ash Wednesday services churchgoers are marked on the forehead with a cross of ashes as a sign of penitence and mortality. The use of ashes, made by burning palm crosses from the previous Palm Sunday, is very symbolic.
God our Father, you create us from the dust of the earth.
Grant that these ashes may be for us
a sign of our penitence,
and a symbol of our mortality.
The minister or priest marks each worshipper on the forehead, and says remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return, or a similar phrase based on God’s sentence on Adam in Genesis 3:19. The modern practice in Roman Catholic churches nowadays, as the ashes are being administered, is for the priest to say something like Turn away from sin and believe the gospel. Keeping the mark At some churches the worshippers leave with the mark still on their forehead so that they carry the sign of the cross out into the world.
O Lord, who hast mercy upon all,
take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me
the fire of thy Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore Thee,
a heart to delight in Thee,
to follow and enjoy Thee, for Christ’s sake, Amen
St. Ambrose of Milan (AD 339-397)