What is Ash Wednesday

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Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It was first established as a celebration in the seventh century. The name derives from the custom of burning the palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday. Using palms from Palm Sunday is a reminder that one must not only rejoice in the triumph of Jesus over death, but also regret the fact that our sins made it necessary for Him to die. The ashes are dabbed on the foreheads of believers in the sign of the cross, by the minister or priest.

In the Roman Catholic Church the branches are burned before mass, with a prayer of blessing. The ashes are sprinkled on the altar three times, then the priests apply them to their own foreheads before marking the communicators. The ashes are to represent the sorrow of believers as they meditate on the sacrifice of Christ. Ash Wednesday is also to be a day of fasting.

Ashes and fasting are biblical symbols of mourning and penance. In Bible times the custom was to fast, wear sackcloth, sit in dust and ashes, and put dust and ashes on one's head. Below are just a couple of many examples where the Bible refers to the use of ashes in mourning. "Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went." (2 Samuel 13:19) "When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head." (2 Samuel 15:32).


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