Why Does the Church Use Ashes to Open the Lenten Season?

The blessed ashes are a powerful reminder that we are dust, and to dust, we shall return.

Newsroom (02/03/2022, 09:22 PM, Gaudium Press) Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the 40 days of the Lenten season, a favourable time for prayer, penance, good works and meditation on the mysteries of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ and our Redemption.

At the very beginning of this liturgical season, ash occupies a special place at the opening of the Lenten season. They are the product of the incineration of the blessed branches that were already used as sacraments on Palm Sunday of the previous year. Their ash is blessed and used as a new sacramental that will remind us of the spirit in which the Lenten Season is to be lived.

Ash Wednesday

At the opening ceremony of Lent, the imposition of holy ash takes place. To distribute them, the priest traces a cross over the foreheads of the faithful while repeating the words:
 “Convert and believe in the Gospel” or, also to recall that our definitive place which is not here on earth but in Heaven, the priest says: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Ash, Symbol of repentance and reconciliation

The use of ash to symbolize penance is ancient: the Jews, for example, used to cover themselves with ash when they made some sacrifice, as the Ninevites did. Also, in the first centuries of the Church, people who wanted to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Holy Thursday covered their heads with ash and presented themselves before the community dressed in a “penitential habit” representing their will to convert.

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In the Catholic Church, the tradition of using holy ash has been going on since the 9th century reminding everyone that at the end of our life, we can only take with us the fruits of our love for God. (JSG)

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At the very beginning of this liturgical season, ashes occupy an outstanding place during the opening ceremonies of the Lenten exercises.
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