Ash Wednesday 2015: What is it and why is it an important day for Christians?

Ash Wednesday is marked 46 days before Easter Sunday

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent – which is the period of self-restraint and abstention for Christians prior to Easter.

What does the day signify?

It marks the first day of fasting, repentance, prayer and self-control. Luxury or rich foods such as meat and dairy are often avoided by those taking part in Lent.

Abstention from personal “bad habits” such as watching television or eating too much sugar is also commonly practised.

When is Ash Wednesday?

The day is marked on different dates each year. It falls on 18 February this year, the day after Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day.

How is it celebrated?

During church services, clergy use ashes burned at the previous year’s Palm Sunday mixed with holy water or olive oil to mark a cross on a worshipper’s forehead as a sign of repentance.

This is to signify the Biblical passage in Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”

Why is it 46 days before Easter, and not 40?

Although Lent lasts for six weeks, Sundays are not included as they are considered a day for worship and rest.

Ash Wednesday is marked 46 days before Easter Sunday, which is on 5 April this year, to imitate the full 40 days Jesus spent fasting in a desert before being blessed by John the Baptist.