Ash Wednesday and Lent: A Christian Practice

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Alexa Vega

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Ash Wednesday is an important day for Christian Catholics and Protestants alike. It is the beginning of a new liturgical season known as Lent. Ash Wednesday and Lent is a time period where people prepare for Easter by fasting, avoiding meat every Friday during lent, praying, and doing penance. Contemporary Christian also encourage adding specific behaviors that bring individual faith practices more in line with God’s call for all His People. The Lenten season lasts 40 days; the last week of Lent, called Holy Week, leads to Good Friday and, finally, Easter. 

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “(Ash Wednesday) was the practice in Rome for penitents to begin their period of public penance on the first day of Lent. They were sprinkled with ashes, dressed in sackcloth, and obliged to remain apart until they were reconciled with the Christian community on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. When these practices fell into disuse (8th–10th century), the beginning of the penitential season of Lent was symbolized by placing ashes on the heads of the entire congregation.” There’s always Mass or service on Ash Wednesday, and the Distribution of the Ashes, where people can receive ashes on their foreheads, is a part of the service. According to The Holiday Spot, “Originally the use of ashes to betoken penance was a matter of private devotion. Later it became part of the official rite for reconciling public penitents. In this context, ashes on the penitent served as a motive for fellow Christians to pray for the returning sinner and to feel sympathy for him. Still later, the use of ashes passed into its present rite of beginning the penitential season of Lent on Ash Wednesday.”

A further detail that Catholic and liturgical Protestant Christians share is the color purple during Lent. Purple represents some deeply held Lenten values. Two principle reasons purple is used: “firstly because it is associated with mourning and so anticipates the pain and suffering of the crucifixion, and secondly because purple is the color associated with royalty, and celebrates Christ’s resurrection and sovereignty”.


Why Ashes on Ash Wednesday?” UMC, Accessed March 20th, 2019

“Origin and History of Ash Wednesday”,, Accessed March 20th, 2019

The Editors 0f Encyclopedia Britannica “Ash Wednesday”, Encyclopedia Britannica,, Accessed March 20th, 2019

“Lent” BBB.CO. June 22, 2009,, Accessed March 21st, 2019

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