The season of fasting and prayer has arrived for many Catholics and Christians throughout the world. Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that is set 46 days before Easter Sunday and signifies the beginning of the Season of Lent.
“My mom used to make us go to services on Ash Wednesday and get the cross on our foreheads,” said David Cisneros, 33, Denver. “After I moved out, I stopped doing that stuff, but even today if I visit on or around Ash Wednesday, I know I’ll have to probably go to church.”
Ash Wednesday goes hand-in-hand with the Season of Lent, which, according to the teachings of the Catholic Church (and many other Christian-based faiths) is a season of penance, reflection and fasting to prepare followers for Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. As a basis of Christianity, said resurrection is how followers are redeemed. Ash Wednesday, for many, marks the beginning of that journey to redemption.
According to the teachings of the Catholic Church, churchgoers will receive a cross on their forehead on Ash Wednesday to “humble our hearts and remind us that life passes away on Earth. Man is dust and unto dust you shall return.”
The ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the church, and they help followers to develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice.
“I did it every year for 14 years,” said Sarah Keller, 35 who attended a catholic school in her native Pittsburgh until she moved to Colorado to study Theology at the University of Denver. “I remember the ash always falling on my nose it not lasting all day.”
Though involved with the ritual for her childhood and adolescence, Keller said that the symbolism didn’t really stick with her.
“I didn’t really mean much to me at the time,” she said. “I actually don’t remember the symbolism. It was something that we did and I didn’t really think about it.”
Ash Wednesday is not exclusive to Catholics, however, many people across the broad spectrum of Christianity celebrate Ash Wednesday - and more specifically Lent.
“I always like how all the days tie together,” said Magdalena Ortiz, 44, Denver. “We burn the palms from Palm Sunday to create the ash for Ash Wednesday, which leads us to Lent and guides us through to Easter Sunday.”
For Ortiz, Ash Wednesday is a chance to take into account the areas in which her faith has been weakened or lacking and make the appropriate steps of penance.
“It really is a great opportunity to reflect, find yourself, ask for forgiveness and make the steps necessary to be a better person and a better Christian,” Ortiz said. “Everything about this time of year says renewal and that is what this day signifies for me.”
According to CatholicSpirit.com receiving the ash on Ash Wednesday, tangibly marks the significance of the day and gives parishioners additional motivation to progress through Lent en route to Easter Sunday.
“When we come forward to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, we are saying that we are sorry for our sins and that we want to use the season of Lent to correct our faults, purify our hearts, control our desires and grow in holiness so we will be prepared to celebrate Easter with great joy.”
Diet is another aspect of Ash Wednesday and Lent that has been altered through the years, but is still a major focus for those who honor the day and season. Originally fasting rules were strict and some churches - particularly Eastern Orthodox - still restrict the use of meat, fish, eggs, butter, wine, oil and dairy products.
After World War II those restrictions were lessened and the Season of Lent has now become one where parishioners often find that item - or items - that they cannot live without and manage without them for 40 days.