To the Western world that adheres to the faith of Christianity, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the approximately six weeks period of Lent that ends in Easter.
Easter is commemorated forty six days after Ash Wednesday. Fixed on the basis of liturgical calculations, this day may commence anytime between the first week of February to the first week of March.
Ash Wednesday in the next five years:
- In 2014, Ash Wednesday is on Wednesday, March 05.
- In 2015, Ash Wednesday is on Wednesday, February 18.
- In 2016, Ash Wednesday is on Wednesday, February 10.
- In 2017, Ash Wednesday is on Wednesday, March 01.
- In 2018, Ash Wednesday is on Wednesday, February 14.
Beliefs related to Ash Wednesday:
- As per the scriptures of the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, it is believed by the Christians that Jesus Christ was once spending 40 days of fasting in a desert when he was tempted by Satan. Lent originated to mirror this belief of fasting for 40 days before Easter to prepare oneself for the ceremonies. Ever Sunday is considered to be a commemoration of the resurrection of Christ, and as such, Sundays are considered to be days of feasting; and fasting is considered inappropriate on Sundays.
- In keeping with this belief, Christians usually fast for 6 days (from Monday until Saturday) during six weeks and then on the week preceding Easter, fasting is observed from Wednesday to Saturday, adding up to 40 days of total fasting. According to this ritual, Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting.
- The ash used on this day is made from branches that we used to bless on Palm Sunday of the last year.
- The practice of fasting on Ask Wednesday is often considered as a day of abstinence from meat sourced from mammals or fowls. In fact some traditions include consuming salted herring on Ash Wednesday as a continued ritual of the day before which is observed as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras.
- The fasting is especially practiced by the Catholics rigorously on this occasion. Catholics who are aged between 18 years and 59 years and are of overall sound health permitting them to fast are required to fast on this day accepting only one full meal in the course of the day. Failing to do so, the person may consume two smaller meals which combined together should not exceed one full meal in proportion. Some people however go beyond this and observe only bread and water fast.
- Apart from the fasting party, emphasis is also laid on repentance. This is to remind people of their values and principles and prepare their mind to face Baptism, whether new or renewal.
Public Life on Ash Wednesday:
In the United States, Ash Wednesday is not considered to be a federal holiday, as such businesses and organizations operate according to their regular schedule. The same is applicable in case of public transportation that runs as per schedule on this day. Schools and other educational institutions also operate following the normal course of routine. Some Church Schools may have special prayers or blessing services organized to mark the day.
Observances on Ash Wednesday:
Observant Christians attend special Church Services on this day. Catholic or other Church Schools too host services on this day. Blessed Ashes are used to mark a sign of Cross on people’s foreheads by the Priests. The Blessed Ash is believed to remind people of their mortality, make them repent for sins committed, seek change for the betterment and ask forgiveness for deeds done wrong. Prayers of Confession are often read on this day. Church practices also include confessions and penitence. Ash Wednesday is not a day for feasting – in fact on the contrary it is a day of fasting. This marks the beginning of the holy Lent period, and as such is considered the preparatory phase when one is encouraged to think about choices one should make in life so as to prepare the person for either receiving or reaffirming Baptism during Easter, which comes just after 46 days. Many people engage in charitable activities on this day, donations are made either to the needy or to organizations that work for the underprivileged, and fund raiser events are organized too in an attempt to get closer to Godliness.
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