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Ash Wednesday, The Meaning & Purpose ….


Ash Wednesday, The Meaning & Purpose ….


In the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the season of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. (In Eastern Rite Catholic churches, Lent begins two days earlier, on Clean Monday.)

Ash Wednesday always falls 46 days before Easter. (See How Is the Date of Ash Wednesday Calculated? for more details.) Since Easter falls on a different date each year (see How Is the Date of Easter Calculated?), Ash Wednesday does, too. To find the date of Ash Wednesday in this and future years, see When Is Ash Wednesday?.

While Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, all Roman Catholics are encouraged to attend Mass on this day in order to mark the beginning of the Lenten season.


Quick Facts


46 days before Easter Sunday;

Type of Feast: Commemoration.

Readings: Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 12-13, 14 and 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Prayers: Prayer of Saint Ephrem the Syrian


The Distribution of Ashes

During Mass,

The ashes which give Ash Wednesday its name are distributed. The ashes are made by burning the blessed palms that were distributed the previous year on Palm Sunday; many churches ask their parishioners to return any palms that they took home so that they can be burned.

After the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water, the faithful come forward to receive them. The priest dips his right thumb in the ashes and, making the Sign of the Cross on each person’s forehead, says, “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” (or a variation on those words).

A Day of Repentance

The distribution of ashes reminds us of our own mortality and calls us to repentance. In the early Church, Ash Wednesday was the day on which those who had sinned, and who wished to be readmitted to the Church, would begin their public penance. The ashes that we receive are a reminder of our own sinfulness, and many Catholics leave them on their foreheads all day as a sign of humility. (See Should Catholics Keep Their Ash Wednesday Ashes on All Day?)

Ash-WednesdayFasting and Abstinence

Are Required The Church emphasizes the penitential nature of Ash Wednesday by calling us to fast and abstain from meat. Catholics who are over the age of 18 and under the age of 60 are required to fast, which means that they can eat only one complete meal and two smaller ones during the day, with no food in between. Catholics who are over the age of 14 are required to refrain from eating any meat, or any food made with meat, on Ash Wednesday.

Taking Stock of Our Spiritual Life

This fasting and abstinence is not simply a form of penance, however; it is also a call for us to take stock of our spiritual lives. As Lent begins, we should set specific spiritual goals we would like to reach before Easter and decide how we will pursue them—for instance, by going to daily Mass when we can and receiving the Sacrament of Confession more often.

Lent, The Meaning & Purpose ….

Lent3_Cam1-0-00-11-08Lent is the Christian season of preparation before Easter. In Western Christianity, Ash Wednesday marks the first day, or the start of the season of Lent, which begins 40 days prior to Easter (Sundays are not included in the count).

Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ – his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection.

Not all Christian churches observe Lent. Lent is mostly observed by the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican denominations, and also by Roman Catholics. Eastern Orthodox churches observe Lent or Great Lent, during the 6 weeks or 40 days preceding Palm Sunday with fasting continuing during the Holy Week of Orthodox Easter. Lent for Eastern Orthodox churches begins on Monday (called Clean Monday) and Ash Wednesday is not observed.

The Bible does not mention the custom of Lent, however, the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes is found in 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21.

Lent and fasting seem to go together naturally in some Christian churches, while others consider this form of self-denial a personal, private matter.

It’s easy to find examples of fasting in both the Old and New Testaments. In Old Testament times, fasting was observed to express grief. Starting in the New Testament, fasting took on a different meaning, as a way to focus on God and prayer.

Such a focus was Jesus Christ’s intent during his 40-day fast in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-2). In preparation for his public ministry, Jesus intensified his prayer with the addition of fasting.

Today, many Christian churches associate Lent with Moses’ 40 days on the mountain with God, the 40-year journey of the Israelites in the desert, and Christ’s 40-day period of fasting and temptation. Lent is a period of somber self-examination and penitence in preparation for Easter.

Lent and Fasting in the Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church has a long tradition of fasting and Lent. Unlike most other Christian churches, the Catholic Church has specific regulations for its members covering Lenten fasting .
Not only do Catholics fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but they also abstain from meat on those days and all the Fridays during Lent. Fasting does not mean complete denial of food, however.2602155_f260

On fast days, Catholics are allowed to eat one full meal and two smaller meals which, together, do not constitute a full meal. Young children, the elderly, and persons whose health would be affected are exempt from fasting regulations.

Fasting is associated with prayer and alms giving as spiritual disciplines to take a person’s attachment away from the world and focus it on God and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Lent and Fasting in the Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church imposes the strictest rules for the Lenten fast. Meat and other animal products are prohibited the week before Lent. The second week of Lent, only two full meals are eaten, on Wednesday and Friday, although many lay people do not keep the full rules. Weekdays during Lent, members are asked to avoid meat, meat products, fish, eggs, dairy, wine and oil. On Good Friday, members are urged not to eat at all.

Lent and Fasting in Protestant Churches

Most Protestant churches do not have regulations on fasting and Lent. During the Reformation, many practices that might have been considered “works” were eliminated by reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin, so as not to confuse believers who were being taught salvation by grace alone.

In the Episcopal Church

Members are encouraged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting is also to be combined with prayer and alms giving. The Presbyterian Church makes fasting voluntary. Its purpose is to develop dependence on God, prepare the believer to face temptation, and to seek wisdom and guidance from God.

The Methodist Church

Has no official guidelines on fasting but encourages it as a private matter. John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, fasted twice a week. Fasting, or abstaining from such activities as watching television, eating favorite foods, or doing hobbies is also encouraged during Lent.

The Baptist Church

Encourages fasting as a way to draw closer to God, but considers it a private matter and has no set days when members should fast. The Assemblies of God consider fasting an important practice but purely voluntary and private. The church stresses that it does not produce merit or favor from God but is a way to heighten focus and gain self-control.

The Lutheran Church

Encourages fasting but imposes no requirements on its members to fast during Lent. The Augsburg Confession states, “We do not condemn fasting in itself, but the traditions which prescribe certain days and certain meats, with peril of conscience, as though such works were a necessary service.”

The Symbolic Meanings of Traditional Rosh Hashanah Foods

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish holiday celebrating the Jewish New Year. It is the first of the Ten Days of Repentance or High Holidays. It is not like New Years celebrations on midnight of December 31stbut a time period of making amends for past sins and plans for a better “new year”, a new beginning.

Certain foods and meals are associated with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. After the prayer service a Kiddush or blessing is recited912561-ano-nuevo-judio-simbolos over wine. Bread is then dipped in honey and a blessing is said over the bread. This is then repeated with a slice of an apple also dipped in honey. While Rosh Hashanah is a time of repentance it is looked at hopefully with the belief in a merciful God.

Honey was the sweetener used in biblical times and is symbolic of wishes for a sweet new year. Honey is also symbolic of good living and Israel is often referred to as “the land of milk and honey” in the bible.

Fish, or the head of a fish, is eaten on Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah meaning “head of the year” and fish being symbolic of abundance and fertility.

On the second night of Rosh Hashanah a new fruit is eaten, one that has not yet been eaten that season. A blessing is said with this, thanking God for bringing us to this new season and our being alive to appreciate the fruits of the earth. Pomegranates are often used as the new fruit as Israel is praised in the Bible for pomegranates and we would like to have the good deeds we do be as abundant as the 613 seeds of the pomegranate.

Round shaped Challah is used as a symbol of the wish of a perfect year to come. The roundness represents an unending circle of life. Carrots, baked in honey, are symbolic of the hopes of increasing the good deeds done in the coming year. The Yiddish word meren means both to increase or more, and carrots. The green of spinach symbolizes a green year with good harvest. Sweetened chicken or a sweetened meat entrée is symbolic of the wishes of a sweet year. Rice is used as a symbol of abundance.

Leeks may be used in a menu to symbolically cut off enemies. The Hebrew word for leek is very similar to the Hebrew word for “cut off”. Beets are used to symbolically remove adversaries. Again, the Hebrew word for beet is similar in sound to the word for “remove”. At the same time many Jews will avoid eating nuts during Rosh Hashanah as the Hebrew word for “nut” has the same numerical value as the Hebrew word for “sin”. During the time of Judgment it is felt best to avoid anything that could involve sin even if it is just in numerical language.