Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent (a preparation for Easter), 46 days before Easter. It is celebrated by going to Mass and receiving ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross to remind us that “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). The ashes are burned blessed palms and are blessed. The palms are from the previous Palm Sunday. It is also a day of fasting and abstaining. Fasting means that you only eat the equivalent of one meal for the whole day. Abstaining means that you don’t eat meat. These are done to sacrifice for what Jesus endured on Good Friday for us.
The ashes are to remind us of our death that we don’t know when it will come and to repent of our sins now so that we are prepared for it. The way to prepare for is to follow God’s rules and ways. “Ashes are a plea to God for mercy and compassion, pardon and forgiveness.” (http://thecatholicspirit.com/holy-days/lent/why-do-we-receive-ashes-on-ash-wednesday-2/) The most important meaning of the ashes is our promise to reform our lives and to avoid sins and the temptations of sin.
This year (2017), Ash Wednesday is on March 1st. If a non-Catholic visits the Catholic Church for this Mass, they are invited to go forward and receive the ashes on their forehead, if they wish. The fun part is if you have a priest with a large thumb, you will get a very large cross on your forehead!
Photo credit: Parish of the Holy Eucharist