Christians across the United States and around the world will head to church on Ash Wednesday to mark the start of Lent. Those who attend will be instantly recognizable for the rest of the day because of the dark cross on their foreheads.
The ash signifies the dust from which God made people. As he applies it, the priest or pastor will recite the words from Genesis 3:19: “From dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
Ash Wednesday kicks off the 40 days of Lent, 46 including Sundays, which mirrors the time Jesus spent in the Judean desert, fasting and battling the temptations of Satan.
But for those who cannot make it to a church to attend mass in person, there is still the chance to participate online. The head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, will be giving his annual mass from St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The mass can be watched via a free live stream from CatholicTV.com, beginning at 10:30 a.m. EST.
Last year, Francis sought to convey the true meaning of Lent.
“Lent should be a time of beneficial ‘pruning away’ of falsehood, worldliness, indifference: in order not to think that everything is OK as long as I’m OK; to understand that what counts is not the approval of others, or search for success or consensus, but cleanness in one’s heart and in one’s life; in order to rediscover the Christian identity — that is, the love that serves, not the selfishness that is served,” he said.
One of the more popular readings that references Ash Wednesday, which Francis cited in his 2016 mass, comes from Matthew chapter 6.
"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting,” it reads. “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
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