Photo by Michael Swan

Ash Wednesday, the Lenten journey begins

  • February 13, 2013

TORONTO - Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the first day of the Lenten season for Christians throughout the Greater Toronto Area and around the world. In Catholic churches in the archdiocese of Toronto, the faithful will gather today to participate in the distribution of ashes — a tradition that has united Christians together in their faith for more than a millennium.

Below are a number of facts about Ash Wednesday and this important time of our Christian calendar.

o  Lent marks a period of increased prayer, penance and charitable acts leading up to Easter.

o Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, the 46-day period (40 days, not including Sundays) before Easter.

o Ash Wednesday is a moveable feast; that is, the date changes from year to year depending on the date of Easter. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday following the paschal full moon (the full moon that falls on or after the spring equinox).

o Though it is a very important day in the year of the Church, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation (days when Catholics are obliged to attend Mass).

o Wearing ashes is an ancient symbol of repentance and contrition, with references in the Old Testament to penitents who wore sackcloth and ashes.

o The Day of Ashes, as it was earlier called, dates back to the eighth century and by the end of the 11th century, Pope Urban II introduced the general use of ashes on that day.

o As a priest marks a person’s forehead with ashes in the shape of a cross, he says: "Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return," or, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."

o The ashes distributed on Ash Wednesday are traditionally created by burning the palms from the previous Palm Sunday. They are then christened by and scented by incense.

o  Today many people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, continue to “give up” something for Lent, following the tradition of fasting.


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