More than six weeks before Easter Sunday, Ash Wednesday is observed by Catholics in opening the season of Lent.
Wearing ashes on the head is a symbolic practice of penance. This practice has been a tradition of the Jews since ancient times in observing penance and fasting. Ashes have been significant in the humbling celebration of creation as it symbolizes the dust which God breathed into and made man.
In the Bible, an example of this practice can be read in the Book of Jonah. When the people of Nineveh, from its king to its slaves, concretely expressed repentance in donning sackcloth and ashes. Moved by their act of repentance, the Lord heeded to the Ninevites with great mercy.
As a day of penance, Catholics are recommended “to do penance each in his or her own way”. The faithful are invited to devote themselves to prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. Those “who have completed their fourteenth year” are called to practice abstinence. And as well, those who have “attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year” are called to fast. In Holy Masses, priests and ministers speak “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (cf. Genesis 3:19) or alternatively, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” (cf. Mark 1:15) in imposing ashes on the faithful’s head.
The ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from the palms blessed in the previous year’s Palm Sunday. As ashes symbolize penance, it also reminds the faithful of God’s grace and mercy to those who repent from their sins. As the Church enters the season of Lent, the faithful are also invited to receive the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation as they prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s death and resurrection.
Ash Wednesday: https://www.catholic.org/lent/ashwed.php
Ash Wednesday: https://www.facebook.com/DominicansPH/posts/4999769396748535
Code of Canon Law 1247, 1252: https://www.vatican.va/archive/cod-iuris-canonici/eng/documents/cic_lib4-cann1244-1253_en.html