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Why Is It Called 'Ash' Wednesday?

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Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2012, 13:09 [IST]

Why Is It Called 'Ash' Wednesday?

Lent fasting starts today as it is Ash Wednesday so it the perfect time ask a slightly silly question. What is meaning of “ash' in Ash Wednesday? It is a Catholic ritual and you may have been following it since you were only a toddler but with the onslaught of modernity, the meanings of our rituals are being diluted. It is not at all abnormal for a person to have practiced a ritual all his life and yet not know what it stands for. However, it is never too late; you can still catch up.

What 'Ash' Wednesday Means?
Leave out the 'ash', why is it always Wednesday? As you obviously know that the period of lent fasting is the time that Jesus spent in the forest before his prophecies. Christ actually went on a fast for these 40 days and we follow suit. Now at the end of lent is Easter and that comes on a Good Friday exactly 6 and a half weeks away. This calculation is done in such a way that six and a half weeks before a Friday will naturally be a Wednesday.

Now coming back to the 'Ash' Wednesday, it is a standard catholic ritual to draw crosses with ash on the forehead of the faithful to show that they repent their misdeeds in the past year. That is where the name comes from.

Significance Of 'Ash' On Ash Wednesday:
What is ash; the remnant of our bodies or any physical thing that is burned. Ashes to ashes is way of saying whatever you may do on this earth will turn to ashes. So basically you can say it is what we leave behind when we die and that is not a very pleasant thing. For Catholics it is a way of showing their repentance and also a signifier that they know what awaits them when they turn to ashes.

What Is Done On Ash Wednesday?
Typically, this day would include a service where all the faithful go to Church and dwell on the significance of this Catholic ritual. Then the priest would burn palm crosses from Palm Sunday (that celebrates the victorious return of Christ to Jerusalem). These palms are burned and the ash from it is blessed. It is turned into a paste like consistency and a cross is drawn on the foreheads of all the devotees to mark the beginning of the period of mourning for Christ and practicing abstinence to repent.

As Lent fasting begins from today you will ideally be having no meat on this day. Some people also try and give up their favourite foods like baked confectioneries or chocolates etc. for the next 40 days.

The palm crosses from Palm Sunday are burned on this solemn occasion not to make it more grave than it already is. Palm Sunday is a happy occasion so burning it's memories on Ash Wednesday is a reminder that the Ash of sorrow comes from the memories of happiness. It is a never ending cycle that will continue forever.

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