Matthew Lickona 8:30 a.m., Oct. 20
- Community Blog
Who put the "ash" in Ash Wednesday?
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.