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Ash Wednesday: All You Need to Know

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Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday is the root of it all

The annual Mardi Gras in New Orleans concludes on the day that is referred to as Fat Tuesday. This is a day of gluttony and eating a lot of meat because the following day begins a time of fasting and prayer. After the revelry of Mardi Gras and over-indulging is finished the focus for many shifts to spiritual matters, Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, which is always exactly 46 days before Easter Sunday. This includes 40 days of Lent, plus six, and does not include Sundays. All of this is directly affected by the date Easter falls on each year. Easter/Resurrection Sunday is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21, the Sring Equinox. Christmas is always on December 25 and Thanksgiving comes each fourth Thursday in November but Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Lent, Good Friday, and Easter change every single year. Easter will never take place prior to March 21 but can be as late as April 25.

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

Ash Wednesday purpose

Ash Wednesday is observed in Catholicism but is recognized in other Christian denominations such as some Methodists, Baptist, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopalians. There are also Christians that refrain from Ash Wednesday celebrations. ashes us The ashes used on Ash Wednesday that are placed on the forehead represent the fact that man came from and will return to dust upon death. As the sign of the ross is made on the forehead with ashes a priest will say "Remember you are dust, and to dust, you shall return." This is a reference to God saying the same to Adam when he and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden (in the Christian Bible. On Ash Wednesday, this scripture from Genesis is a reminder to be humble as we all will one day return to the dust.

Lent

Lent

The first Ash Wednesday

The first Ash Wednesday ceremonies are believed to have been held sometime in the 11th Century AD. I understand that some used CE for the common era but for believers in Christ it will always be the year of our Lord. Anno Domini The Lent season is not mentioned in the Bible, but Daniel 9:3 says the following: So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes, This links fasting to .ashes, and some Biblical scholars believe this is the origin of the annual practice. In the Old Testament and even during Jesus day the people would place washed on their foreheads and wear clothing made from hemp or flax. When I was a child people would put their chicken feed in a burlap sack made from coarse material and some said this might have been used by those who fasted in Biblical times. Do keep in mind that Jesus said in Matthew 6:16 (Berean Literal Bible) And whenever you fast, do not be downcast in countenance like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so that they might appear to men as fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their recompense.


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American Lenten practices

Ash Wednesday did not gain mainstream popularity with U.S. Christians until the 1970s. Some churches that pass out palm fronds on Palm Sunday, (the Sunday before Easter,) many churches pass out palm fronds like those used to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem in the days prior to his crucifixion. Some churches save those palms and burn them to make the ashes that are applied on the foreheads the following Ash Wednesday. It is customary to fast during Lent but most Christians do not observe a total fast. it is customary to abstain from red meat and some people add chocolate and caffeine. Fish is the acceptable food for many but the bottom line is to be praying and seeking the Lord for His will as you focus on the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Remember it's more important that others see Christ in your heart and your actions rather than simply ashes on your forehead.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Cheryl E Preston

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