A guide to Ash Wednesday and Lent
Published 10:28 am Tuesday, February 21, 2023
St. Francis of Assisi in Brookhaven will have Ash Wednesday Mass at 12:10 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. But many may not know what Ash Wednesday is, and why Lincoln County residents may be seen with ash on their foreheads in the shape of a cross.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Its purpose is to focus the Christian’s heart on repentance and prayer, usually through personal and communal confession, according to Kelly Givens of Christianity.com and Crosswalk.com.
Friar John Paul Mary, a presenter on the Catholic cable channel EWTN, suggests Catholics visit the confessional close to Ash Wednesday rather than well into or at the end of Lent. “We need to start well if we’re to finish well,” he said.
Lent begins 46 days prior to Easter Sunday. The 40-day season — not counting Sundays — is marked by repentance, fasting, reflection and ultimately celebration. The length represents Jesus’ time of temptation in the wilderness, as recorded in the Gospels in the New Testament.
The observance of Ash Wednesday is most commonly seen in Catholic Mass or Lutheran worship service, though some other non-Catholic (Protestant) Christian denominations or churches observe it, as well.
The mood of the service is typically solemn, with long periods of silence and reflection. After a period of personal confession and prayer, the congregation is invited to receive the ashes on their foreheads, administered by the priest or pastor in the shape of a cross. The minister will say something similar to, “From dust you came and to dust you will return.”
The ashes are usually prepared by burning palm branches from the previous Sunday, Palm Sunday, when churches celebrate the Gospels’ account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem the wee prior to his crucifixion and resurrection.
“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,” according to CatholicSpirit.com.
Though its origins are unclear, the practice of Lent was formalized at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.
Important dates for 2023 in Lent
Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22
Palm Sunday, April 2
Holy Week, April 2-8
Maundy Thursday, April 6
Good Friday, April 7
Easter (Resurrection) Sunday, April 9