Ash Wednesday: What does it signify?
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Lent begins every year on Ash Wednesday, and in normal times, churches would hold services to mark the start of the 40-day period of repentance. Observed by Christians from all over the world, the practices of Ash Wednesday go back centuries.
What is Ash Wednesday?
It follows pancake day, or Shrove Tuesday as it is officially called.
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, the six-week period during which many abstain from certain practices.
Christians would typically abstain from eating rich foods containing meat and dairy, but these days in the UK many choose something they usually consume in excess to give up for the period.
Why do Christians celebrate Ash Wednesday?
Lent is used to commemorate Jesus, who once spent 40 days and nights fasting in the desert while being tempted by Satan.
Lent begins every year on Ash Wednesday, and in normal times, churches would hold services to mark the start of the 40-day period.
Mass is attended by churchgoers, where they would usually congregate to listen to stories from the Bible and join together in prayer.
Ashes are given as a sign of repentance and purification following a period of silence where attendees reflect on their sins.
The cross is marked on worshippers foreheads using the ashes.
As the cross is marked on a person’s forehead by a member of the clergy, they say: “Remember that you are guest, and to dust you shall return.”
Alternatively, the priest could say: “Repent and believe in the gospel.”
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The ashes are made by burning palm leaves on Shrove Tuesday and mixed with holy water or olive oil.
These leaves will have also been used during the church service for Palm Sunday the previous year.
Sprinkling ashes over worshippers is also done instead of drawing the cross on the skin.
When is Ash Wednesday?
In 2021 Ash Wednesday takes place on February 17.
The day before is Pancake Day, when rich foods are traditionally eaten prior to the fasting period.
These days, pancakes are used as a good way to use up cupboard ingredients and get in some extra indulgence before the period of abstaining.
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