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Good Question: Why Are Ashes Used On Ash Wednesday?

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(credit: CBS) John Lauritsen
John Lauritsen is a reporter from Montevideo, Minn. He joined WCCO-...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In two days, millions of Christians around the world will observe Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. It falls 46 days before Easter, including Sundays.

Christians will observe Lent by fasting or abstaining from a type of food they like. It’s a way of repenting their sins, and as a way to recognize how Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.

Peter Barrett, parish administrator for St. Olaf’s Catholic Church in downtown Minneapolis, says Ash Wednesday services are among the most popular.

“Probably the biggest turnout of our year at St. Olaf, particularly,” Barrett said.

Barrett says the priest places a cross of ashes on a worshipper’s forehead as a reminder of human mortality and repentance, and also as a way to prepare for Holy Week and the Easter celebration.

“The ashes are made from the palms from the prior Palm Sunday,” he said.

Those palms are burned, blessed and then placed on foreheads. And while Ash Wednesday is often associated with Catholics, other churches recognize it too.

“As a matter of fact, I, many years ago, worked in a United Methodist church. And they, in this particular one I worked at, did perform the Ash Wednesday ceremony of putting ashes on,” Barrett said.

And like Easter, Ash Wednesday is kind of a moving target from year to year, with its date decided by the Julian calendar. It can come as early as Feb. 4, or as late as March 10.

Christians who observe Ash Wednesday often leave ashes on their forehead for the entire day as a way of publicly declaring their faith.

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