Today, we celebrate our first Ash Wednesday inside the new Cathedral. Over 3,000 parishioners will worship with us, on one of the most popular and important holy days in the liturgical calendar. Ash Wednesday opens Lent, a season of fasting and prayer.
The tradition of Ash Wednesday began during the papacy of Gregory the Great over 1,400 years ago. The practice includes the wearing of ashes on the head. The ashes symbolize the dust from which God made us. As the priest applies the ashes to a person’s forehead, he speaks the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.”
The word Lent is from an Old English term meaning springtime, and by the second century, the term was being used to describe the period of individual fasting, almsgiving and prayer in preparation for Easter. Among the Christians of the first three centuries, only those aspiring for baptism — the catechumens — observed a defined period of preparation, and that time lasted only two or three days. The idea of Lent is 40 days in length evolved over the next few centuries, and it is difficult to establish the precise time as to when it began. Among the canons issued by the Council of Nicaea, the Church leaders, in Canon Five, made reference to Lent: “and let these synods be held, the one before Lent that the pure gift may be offered to God after all bitterness has been put away, and let the second be held about autumn.” The language of this canon seems to validate that Lent, in some fashion, had by the fourth century been established and accepted by the Church. While the exact timing and extent of Lent both before and after the Nicaea council is unclear, what is clear from historical documents is that Christians did celebrate a season of Lent to prepare themselves for Resurrection Sunday and used a variety of ways to do so.–via