What is Ash Wednesday?|The Holy MessAsh Wednesday is the first day of Lent. (Read more in this article: What is Lent?)

The day has this name because of the practice of rubbing ashing on worshipers foreheads, typically in the sign of a cross, as a symbol of sin. The pastor or priest says the words, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” or “From dust you are, to dust you shall return.” when the ashes are rubbed onto the forehead.

The Bible records for us, God spoke to Adam after Adam committed the first sin, and God said,

By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.

Genesis 3:19

Because this verse was using by God to talk about the first sin, it’s a reminder of all sin. This practice of rubbing ashes during worship is called imposing of the ashes.

Since this is exactly 40 days before Easter Sunday, it always falls on a Wednesday, and that along with the practice is the reason for the name.

Should You Observe Ash Wednesday?

The term “Ash Wednesday” is not used in the Bible (neither is the term, “Lent”), so it is not required for Christians or churches to observe Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is observed by the Catholic and some Protestant churches. Each Christian can determine if this is a practice that is meaningful for him or her.

While the term “Ash Wednesday” is not in the Bible, the Bible does talk about people uses ashes as a symbol of repentance or mourning.

For example:

therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.

Job 42:6

So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes.

Daniel 9:3

Some Christians choose to keep the ashes on their head throughout the day as a symbol of their Christian faith, and others wipe it off immediately.

The ashes are often made by burning palm branches from the previous year’s palm branches from Palm Sunday. (See upcoming article: What is Palm Sunday?)

For more information:

What is Lent? — video

From the Cradle to the Cross: A Sermon Series for Lent

Does your church observe Ash Wednesday? Do you?

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What is Ash Wednesday?|The Holy Mess