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Ash Wednesday: Setting the Tone for Lent

Woman with ash cross on forehead

Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season. It’s a time of importance that involves slowing down and preparing for the great message of salvation through Christ’s Resurrection. It is a season of reflection, prayer, fasting, and penance. And most visibly, it’s a mark with ashes signifying death and life.

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Genesis 3:19

Although not a Holy Day of Obligation, many believers treat Ash Wednesday as such because of its importance. It’s a time to a focus on our Christian hearts. The visible anointing of ashes in the sign of the cross signifies to us the fragility of our humanity – you are dust and to dust you shall return – and our desire for the divine.

Why the Anointing of Dust and Oil in a Cross?

The ashes are created from palms used during Palm Sunday services the year before. Palms are used because they were laid and waved during Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. The ashes are placed on our foreheads as a cross during the Ash Wednesday service as an outward sign of personal remembrance, including our mortality, as well as a sign for repentance. Lent is a time for confronting our weaknesses and focusing on the person we ought to be. 

Season of Lent

Ash Wednesday is six and a half weeks before Easter, which is when Christians believe is the day Jesus was resurrected. It’s a time of penance. And the length of the season is an homage to the 40 days Jesus was in the desert after His baptism and before He began His ministry. We use this season to repent, to reflect, and to remember Jesus’ test of spirituality and withstanding temptation.

Practice of Self-discipline

Making progress in our spiritual life includes paying homage to Jesus’ time in the desert. Lent is observed by sacrificing something personal – to give something up to practice self-discipline and remember all the sacrifices Jesus made. This is a time to return to Him and show Him our willingness to flourish with our whole hearts. 

Profession of Faith

It’s during the period of Lent, leading to Holy Week, and ultimately the glory of Easter, we practice together what it means to be Christians professing belief in our one true God. And Ash Wednesday sets the tone for the season. It reminds us that our death is inevitable. We reflect on how we’re living, recognize our brokenness and trust in God’s love. It’s the glory of Easter that we know God’s final word to the world is resurrection.

"Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment."  Joel 2:12-13

For more information please visit ACSTCatholic.com.


Kimberly spent several years in communications and graphic design roles, including at a Florence church that uses ACST solutions. Before her communications roles, she managed a newsroom as a content editor. Kimberly is a cradle Catholic who’s active in church life, serving in volunteer roles and participating in Bible studies.

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