Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and marks the beginning of a time of reflection, prayer and fasting in preparation for Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday. Although it is said there are forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter or 40 days of Lent there are actually 46 days in this time period as days were added in the past to ensure that there were 40 days of fasting and penance.
Ashes are applied in the shape of a cross to the forehead with the words spoken, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return Ecclesiastes 3:20”, symbolizing the receiver’s repentance for their sins, a sign of their sorrow. Usually the recipient leaves the ashes on their forehead all day as an outward symbol of their repentance. In the bible Job, having been rebuked by God, confesses, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).