Ash Wednesday was observed across the world on February 26, marking the beginning of the season of Lent.
On this day, Catholics attend mass and have a cross of ash marked on their forehead to the words “For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return”. The day derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of believers as a celebration and reminder of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. Catholics mark the day by fasting, alms giving and prayer in order to seek God’s mercy. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are permitted to consume only one full meal, which may be supplemented by two smaller meals, which together should not equal the full meal. Those who are sick, old and weak are exempted from fasting.
The ashes are collected from the palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday which are burnt. The ashes are blessed the first mass of the day. The act of putting on ashes symbolises fragility and mortality, and the need to be redeemed by the mercy of God.
Ash Wednesday occurs 46 days before Easter. This year Easter falls on April 12. According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan.