Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Catholics attending mass on this day have their foreheads marked with ashes as a sign of repentance.
Ash Wednesday is a day to remember that we are God’s creation, made from the dust of the Earth. But it is also good to remember that we are God’s Beloved. We might hear one of these admonitions as the ashes are rubbed on our heads in the form of a cross:
Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.
Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.
Repent and believe the Good news.
So on Ash Wednesday, we receive the ashes on our heads with a sense of sorrow for our shortcomings, but also with a sense of hope. With God’s grace we can repent.
Mass Readings for Ash Wednesday
- First reading: Joel 2:12-18 - "return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning"
- Responsorial psalm: Psalm 51 - "Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned."
- Second reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2 - "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God"
- Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 - "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them"
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.
For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.USCCB
Resources for Ash Wednesday
This printable cryptogram is a fun way to introduce youth to the vocabulary for Lent and Triduum. Each word is encrypted and definitions are given. Youth must consider the definition and then decrypt the word.
Lent dice is a way to choose what activity to do each day for Lent. You roll two dice. One die will indicate what you will do that day and the other will indicate your intention, whom you are doing it for.
Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, is a time of penance. It is a time when we reflect on the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. Catholics have three main practices during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Lent is a time to answer the call to conversion. Catholics practice self discipline by abstaining from meat on Fridays and making other small sacrifices. Giving alms and spending increased time in prayer are also traditional practices during this holy season. Catholics also are encouraged to go to reconciliation during Lent.
All Catholics, young and old, can participate in these practices. Watch the video for an overview of these practices.
In this video, Fr. Mike talks about the significance of Ash Wednesday. What do the ashes mean? We understand we have reached a low point and are in need of redemption. But the ashes go beyond shame.
Ash Wednesday Quotes and Social Media Graphics
And yet Ash Wednesday is full of joy. In a minute we will sing None and go barefoot to get ashes on our heads to remember, with great relief, that we are dust. The source of all sorrow is the illusion that of ourselves we are anything but dust. God is all our joy and in him our dust can become splendor.Thomas Merton
Lent is a journey of returning to the essential, during which the Lord asks us to follow three steps: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.Pope Francis
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.Isaiah 58:6-7
Jesus himself went to the desert and fasted and prayed. This experience prepared him for his ministry, which was largely centered on bringing the Good News to the marginalized. So let our fasting not just be a pointless exercise. Let it spur us on to show God’s love to our brothers and sisters who desperately need to be cared for.
The ashes remind us that worldliness is like the dust that is carried away by a slight gust of wind. Sisters and brothers, we are not in this world to chase the wind; our hearts thirst for eternity.Pope Francis