Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the 40-day Lenten fast for Western Christians. The Christian holy day, this year falling on Feb. 18, is observed by prayer, repentance and fasting ahead of Easter.
The day follows Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras, where revelers partake in their last bout of merrymaking before Lent begins. While many see the observance as a Catholic one, most liturgical churches include Lent in their practices. This includes Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican denominations.
For those unfamiliar with Ash Wednesday, below are three answers to common questions surrounding the holy day.
How Is Ash Wednesday Observed?
During Ash Wednesday services, clergy use ashes burned at last year’s Palm Sunday to mark a cross on member’s foreheads as they bow. While services may take place in the morning and evening, churches have found innovative ways for members partake in the ritual. Some organizations dispense ashes on street corners, subway platforms, outside coffee shops and grocery stories. This year a number of churches are offering drive-through services where members can receive the ashes on their forehead from their car.
For devout Catholics between the ages of 18 to 59, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are mandatory fasting days. Abstinence — in this case, refraining from meat products — must be practiced from age 14 and up. Fasting denotes eating one full meal and two small meals each day. Lent is also a time to refrain from any bad habits that can interfere with one’s relationship with God. This can range from giving up chocolate to performing community outreach.
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Read HERE the answers to the other questions:
What Do The Ashes Mean?
What Is Clean Monday?