Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. You are invited to use this period of 40 days to deepen your faith and commitment to the way of God in Christ. Ash Wednesday has its roots in the idea of putting on sackcloth and ashes for repentance and mourning this was an ancient symbol of penitence and humility long before Christ and was regularly used by early Christians. The marking on the forehead of the ashes in the form of a cross has been used since the 9th Century. The Palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned and provide the ashes for the ceremony.
In a spirit of true Christian obedience let us keep this Ash Wednesday.
The development of Ash Wednesday is closely tied to the development of Lent and Holy Week. The earliest observances of Easter were preceded by a few days of fasting, the actual number of days varying from place to place. Quite independently of the pre-Easter fast, there grew up in Egypt in the late 4th century a custom of keeping a 40 day fast. This originally had nothing to do with Easter and was in imitation of Jesus’ own fasting (in the desert after his baptism, before his ministry).
There was a wide-spread custom in the early church of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays around the year. Lent was an extension of this to the other days of the week, except Sunday, for the 40 day period. The development of the teaching of the foundations of the faith, by the 4th century meant that Lent had become an ideal time for instruction in the faith, for sharing in the prayer of the church, and for the reconciliation of penitents, as well as for fasting. The desire to prepare thoroughly for the Easter festival met up with the observance of Lent to produce the Lenten season as we now have it.