Ash Wednesday–March 5, 2014–is the first day of Lent, and holds special meaning for people of different sects of Christianity and Catholicism.
The moveable holiday can be as early as March 4 and as late as March 10 and usually happens 46 days before Easter.
It marks the beginning of a 40-day period of fasting and prayer, or Lent.
During Lent, Sundays are excluded from fasting and abstinence.
Ash Wednesday originated from the ancient practice of dusting oneself with ashes to express sorrow for one’s sins and faults.
There are numerous examples in the Bible of this happening, including to Job, Daniel, and Jeremiah.
The period of fasting also alludes to how Jesus went into the desert for 43 days to fast and pray, during which time he was tempted.
The period is also analogous to the 40 days during which Moses repented and fasted after making the Golden calf.
The ashes on Ash Wednesday are made from blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration from the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and scented with incense, and pressed onto people’s foreheads.
Ash Wednesday will move back to February 19 next year, and even further back, to February 18, the year after.
Lent ends this year on April 17.
See a full calendar below.
First Sunday of Lent
Second Sunday of Lent
Feast of Saint Patrick
Feast of Saint Joseph
Third Sunday of Lent
The Annunciation of the Lord
Fourth Sunday of Lent
Fifth Sunday of Lent