Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent: a time of penitence, fasting and prayer, in preparation for the great Feast of the Resurrection.
The season of Lent began in the early days of the Church as a time of preparation for those seeking to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. The forty days refer to our Lord’s time of fasting in the wilderness; and since Sundays are never fast days, Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten Fast.
Throughout the Old Testament, ashes are used as a sign of sorrow and repentance, and Christians have traditionally used ashes to indicate sorrow for our own sin, and as a reminder that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Like Adam and Eve, we have disobeyed and rebelled against God, and are under the same judgment, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19b).
But as we are marked with ashes in the same manner that we were signed with the cross in Baptism, we are also reminded of the life we share in Jesus Christ, the second Adam (Romans 5:17, 6:4). It is in this sure hope that we begin the journey of these forty days, that by hearing and answering our Savior’s call to repent, we may enter fully into the joyful celebration of his resurrection.