Today is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It occurs 46 days before Easter. It is a moveable fast that can fall as early as February 4 and as late as March 10. That is because the date is determined by the Jewish Calendar, which is a solar and lunar calendar.

The early church fathers wished to keep the observance of Easter in correlation to the Jewish Passover. Because the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ happened after the Passover, they wanted Easter to always be celebrated subsequent to the Passover. And, since the Jewish holiday calendar is based on solar and lunar cycles, the holiday is movable, with dates shifting from year to year.

According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting.

Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a reminder and celebration of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. The ashes used are typically gathered from the burning of the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday. While applying the ashes, the priest or minister says the following from the Old Testament:

Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return. —Genesis 3:19

But where did this tradition come from? Using ashes as a sign of repentance is an ancient practice. The early Christians adopted the use of ashes from Jewish practice as an external mark of penitence.

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mngcornaglia March 3, 2013 @ 11:17 a.m.

Op-Ed What we need in a pope A variety of noted Catholics describe what they would like in a new pontiff.

March 3, 2013, LA Times

On Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to willingly step down from his position. What kind of man will the cardinals who have gathered in Rome from around the world choose to be his successor? We asked Catholics from a variety of perspectives to write about some of the qualities they would like to see in a new pope.

Sackcloth and ashes

By Sister Eileen McNerney

The first words that I would like our new pope to say are, "For the next 40 days, I will be wearing sackcloth and ashes in repentance for the sins of our church." The horrendous scandal of sexual abuse has pained me deeply, and I know that I am not alone in how I carry this sadness. I believe that a strong symbolic gesture from our next pope could do much to heal this pain. I want him to lead us in fearlessly facing the challenges of the Catholic Church in this postmodern age, forthrightly exploring issues that might threaten to divide us. And I pray that he will always have before him the words that Jesus used in calling St. Peter, the first pope: "Do not be afraid!" The new pope will need our loyalty and our prayers, and he has mine from the start.

Sister Eileen McNerney is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Orange County and author of "A Story of Suffering and Hope: Lessons From Latino Youth."

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tomjohnston March 3, 2013 @ 11:36 a.m.

Begs the question why do we even "need" a pope?

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