Next Wednesday, Feb. 26 is the beginning of Lent, a season of fasting and prayer.  In the Christian tradition it begins with Ash Wednesday,  which was officially recognized in the church in the 13th century, a 40 day season of reflection and repentance leading up to Holy Week and Easter Sunday when we celebrate a new liturgical year.

I remember when I was a young girl. As Ash Wednesday approached my friends and I would talk about what we were giving up for Lent. The practice was encouraged for us to show how disciplined we could be as we approached Jesus’ death on the cross.  Some of us would set lofty goals, while others in our group would take an easier route and give up something we weren’t fond of anyway. I’m not sure how many of us reached our goal, but we sure did hold each other accountable!

Anglicans/Episcopalians, Lutherans, United Methodists and other liturgical Protestants observe Ash Wednesday and partake in receiving ashes.

The Rev. Arne Panula, director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., said his experience is that more people go to church on Ash Wednesday than any other holiday, including Christmas and Easter. “Jews and even people who aren’t religious can honor the tradition as a reminder of man’s shortcomings. People recognize that it is a symbol of our mortality,” he said. “It gives us a profound sense that we are mortal, and Ash Wednesday is a reminder of that.”

One of the traditions of Ash Wednesday is to save the branches of palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. The palms are then burned and become the ashes for Ash Wednesday.  As the minister places the cross on our forehead the words of Genesis 3:19 are said— “For dust you are and to dust you shall return” — while applying the ashes in the shape of a cross on the recipient’s forehead. With these words we are reminded that life is short. Let’s live the life God intended for us.

Sue Bennetch

Excerpts from: Amanda Murphy – March 5, 2014 PCUSA – Questions and Answers