Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and occurs forty-six days (forty days not counting Sundays) before Easter. It falls on a different date each year, because it is dependent on the date of Easter.

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. The ashes used are gathered after the Palm Crosses from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned. In the liturgical practice of some churches, the ashes are mixed with the Oil of the Catechumens (one of the sacred oils used to anoint those about to be baptized), though some churches use ordinary oil. This paste is used by the priest who presides at the service to make the sign of the cross, first upon his own forehead and then on each of those present who kneel before him at the altar. As he does so, he recites the words:

Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris

(Remember (O man) that you are dust, and to dust you shall return)

The ashes used in the service of worship or Mass are sacramentals, not a sacrament.In the Catholic Church, ashes, being sacramentals, may be given to any Christian as opposed to Catholic sacraments, which are generally reserved for church members, except in cases of grave necessity.