February 14, 2018
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent.
In the early western church, individuals wanting to be baptized began a period of public penance on this first day of Lent. They were sprinkled with ashes, dressed in a pauper’s sackcloth, and obliged to remain apart from the Christian community until Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter, when they were reconciled to the church.
By the tenth century, this initiation process had fallen into disuse for the newcomers, but a derivation of the practice was claimed for the entire church – a practice we follow today – by placing ashes on the foreheads of the entire congregation, making the sign of the cross.
These ashes are an outward sign, which may take on a particular inward meaning for us as we begin this season of preparation for the celebration of Easter on April 8th. – Source: Br. Curtis Almquist, of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist [SSJE.org, 02-21-07]