5 Things You Need to Know About Ash Wednesday

By: Morexette Marie B. Erram - CDN Digital Multi-Media Reporter | February 22,2023 - 06:00 AM

5 Things You Need to Know About Ash Wednesday

STOCK PHOTO | Image Source: Annika Gordon from Unsplash

CEBU CITY, Philippines – When Catholics in Cebu bear the cross of ashes on their forehead, that only means one thing – the Lenten Season has officially started. 

Today, February 22, thousands of devotees will begin their penitential in preparation for Easter Sunday. 

But what is Ash Wednesday all about? Why do Catholics and several Christian denominations observe Lent? Why does the symbol have to be a cross of ashes? Here are some basic facts about Ash Wednesday and Lent that might help quench your curiosity.

The Origins of Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, as mentioned in the previous paragraphs, marks the start of Lent, a time in the liturgical calendar when the faithful contemplate and pent for their sins. More often, they do so through fasting, abstinence, and doing away with liquor and luxurious indulges. 

While there is no concrete evidence that points to when the observation of Ash Wednesday exactly began, experts and scholars theorized that it may have started even before the 11th century. 

Some cited several verses from the Book of Daniel in the Bible that links ashes and fasting, leading them to the theory that it has been a practice passed down through time. 

In addition, an entry from Britannica showed that penitents and grievous sinners in ancient Rome, during the early days of Christianity, wore sackcloth during the first day of their public penance. They were also sprinkled with ashes, and kept away from the rest of the Christian community until Maundy Thursday, or the Thursday before Easter. 

The Ash as a Symbol of Mortality & Penance 

In Roman Catholicism, ash serves as a symbol both for mortality and repentance. This is why priests and church leaders utter: ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return’, during Ash Wednesday. It also symbolizes how God created Adam from dust, and how man turns into ash as he departs the mortal world. 

The Bible states that a mark on someone’s forehead means a person’s ownership. As the faithful bear the sign of the cross during Ash Wednesday, this indicates that they belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ash Wednesday Can Be Celebrated Through Various Means

The Lenten Season is often characterized as a solemn event, as it is a period for ‘reflection and repentance.’ Here in Cebu and the rest of the Philippines, Catholics observe Ash Wednesday earnestly.

But did you know that in other countries, they do Ash Wednesday differently from ours?

In southern Germany, a group called the Geldwaeschergilde, which means ‘money launderer guild’ in English, wash their wallets in fountains on Ash Wednesday. They do this tradition to ‘mourn the end of the carnival season’, the prelude of Lent. 

Before World War II, Fasting was Strict

Ash Wednesday meant that devotees should not eat pork on the succeeding Wednesdays and Fridays. However, the case was not the same before World War II, the same entry from Encyclopedia Britannica stated. 

Before, Christians will only have to eat one meal per day, throughout the entire penitential period. They were also forbidden from eating meat or fish. 

The Roman Catholic Church decided to do away with these practices during World War II, with fasting done only every Wednesday and Friday. 

The Story Behind Using the Previous Year’s Palm Sunday for Ashes 

It’s a known fact that the ashes used for Ash Wednesday were Palm fronds from the previous Lent. And the story behind this holds great Biblical significance. 

Palm Sunday symbolizes Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, where people greet him by waving palm fronds. Little did they know, He would die for their salvation. 

“By using palms from Palm Sunday, it is a reminder that we must not only rejoice of Jesus’ coming but also regret the fact that our sins made it necessary for him to die for us in order to save us from hell,” writes James Akin for Eternal Word Television Network (ETWN). /rcg 


Ash crosses now allowed on Ash Wednesday

Safe alternatives for Ash Wednesday


  1. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ash-Wednesday-Christian-holy-day
  2. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/meaning-cross-ashes-ash-wednesday
  3. https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/ash-wednesday-937
  4. Here’s What Ash Wednesday Looks Like Around The World | HuffPost Religion
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TAGS: Ash Wednesday, catholicism, Cebu‬, Cebu Daily News, cebu news, Lent, Lenten season, Roman Catholic
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