What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent, a 40 day period of repentance when Catholics (and some Protestant denominations) take time to remind themselves that life indeed is limited: that we will die.

The Ash Wednesday ritual is simple.  Catholics place ashes on their foreheads as a visible reminder to others that they acknowledge that their bodies will turn to ash one day, that life is indeed precarious, but that they are also a resurrection people.

Catholics believe that more lies beyond this end, and so the ashes are marked by the sign of faith — the cross — at once a symbol of God’s destruction and His greatest triumph.

We listen to the words that the priest or minister says to us as he places the ashes on our forehead: “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” Or, “Turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel.

Some questions to reflect on during the 40 days of Lent are: What is it that holds us back from really living our best life? What do we have to die to — or, at the very least, fast from — in order to liberate ourselves from our bad habits? What do we have to give of ourselves to others, to causes, to God, so that we may stretch ourselves into new ways of being? How does prayer center us into growth?

This is the stuff of Lent and Ash Wednesday kicks off the Lenten season for Catholics and other Christians.

For more on Lent check out our nifty Video on Lent and Ash Wednesday.