Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, February 14

Ash Wednesday


The annual observance of Lent is the special season for the ascent to the holy mountain of Easter. Through its twofold theme of repentance and baptism, the season of Lent dispose both the catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery. Catechumens are led to the sacraments of initiation by means of the rite of election, the scrutinies, and catechesis. The faithful, listening more intently to the word of God and devoting themselves to prayer, are prepared through a spirit of repentance to renew their baptismal promises. /Ceremonial of Bishops, 249/

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40 days of preparation for Easter. The particular character and liturgical setting of this day is derived from the penitential praxis of the early Church. There was a custom in Gallia to dismiss faithful in the state of penance from the Church on Monday after the first Sunday in Lent, in imitation of the banning of the first people from the Garden (Gen 2-3). They were given sackcloth to wear and were marked with ashes as a sign of penance. Once the beginning of Lent was moved to the Wednesday before, this rite was transformed as well.

Probably out of solidarity with penitents, more and more faithful would participate in this rite of ashes. Once the custom of public penance diminished and disappeared (9/10th cent.), the rite of ashes was retained. Now, all the faithful would participate in this rite, and women would receive a cross from ashes on their foreheads. The ashes would be obtained from the palm branches used on Palm Sunday of the previous year.

Currently, the liturgy consists of following parts:

  • liturgy of the Word with homily
  • blessing of the ashes with holy water
  • imposition of the ashes with a quote from the Bible, accompanied by an antiphon from Psalm 51
  • prayers of the faithful
  • liturgy of the Eucharist

The readings are taken from the book of Joel (Rend your hearts, not your garments) and the Second Letter to the Corinthians (Be reconciled to God. Now is the acceptable time). The gospel (Matt 6:1-6.16-18) warns from showing off one’s penance in front of people.

Ash Wednesday is a day of universal fast and abstinence in the Church.

  • Fasting is obligatory from age 18 until age 59. A person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.
  • Abstinence from meat is binding from age 14 onward.

Holy Masses at Ss. Cyril & Methodius with imposition of ashes will take place on Ash Wednesday, February 14, at 6.00AM; 12.00PM; and 7.00PM