On Ash Wednesday, you may encounter Christians, especially Catholics, wearing a smudge of ashes on their foreheads.
That could be a bit startling, unless you know the meaning behind this religious practice.
Here is what you should know about Ash Wednesday and the celebration of Lent.
What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday — officially known as the Day of Ashes — is a day of repentance, when Christians confess their sins and profess their devotion to God.
During a Mass, a priest places the ashes on a worshiper’s forehead in the shape of a cross. The ceremony, which also can be performed by a minister or pastor, is meant to show that a person belongs to Jesus Christ, and it also represents a person’s grief and mourning for their sins — the same sins that Christians believe Jesus Christ gave his life for when he died on the cross.
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Ash Wednesday is important because it marks the start of the Lenten period leading up to Easter, when Christians believe Jesus was resurrected. During this period, Christians show repentance and mourning for their sins, because they believe that Christ died for them.
When the priest applies the cross of ashes, he says to the worshiper: ““Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” He also may say “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”