How to Observe Ash Wednesday

by Contributor ; Updated September 28, 2017

How to Observe Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. Coming on the morning after Mardi Gras, it is for many people a sobering reminder of the 40-day period of purification and renewal that comes before Easter.

Consider attending a church for an Ash Wednesday service. Before mass in a Catholic church, the priest will dip his thumb into previously blessed ashes, then use them to mark your forehead in the shape of a cross as he says, "Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return."

Reflect quietly on your personal relationship to God, and set some time aside to grow in holiness. Ash Wednesday is a good time to think about what's really significant in your life, or life in general, and to try to set your priorities straight.

Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent, if you're Catholic. If you're not Catholic or you're not religious in a formal way, you can simply contemplate the meaning of Ash Wednesday as the beginning of a time of repentance, reflection and prayer.

Think about fasting on this Ash Wednesday, whether giving up one meal or abstaining from food the whole day.

Obtain the Lenten Regulations, which may differ from church to church, to ensure that you get the Lenten season off to a good start.


  • The ashes used in the Ash Wednesday ritual are made by burning the palm fronds blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. Before the ashes are used, they are sprinkled with holy water, purified with incense and blessed with four ancient prayers. The celebrant of the mass receives ashes from another priest before beginning the rite for the congregation. Keep in mind that most Protestant denominations also distribute ashes on Ash Wednesday, though the ritual may vary slightly from church to church.

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