Ash Wednesday, in the calendar of Western Christianity, is the first day of Lent and occurs 46 days before Easter. It is a moveable fast, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It can occur as early as February 4 or as late as March 10. According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, during which he endured temptation bySatan. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting. Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. The ashes used are typically gathered after the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned. This practice is common in much of Christendom, being celebrated by Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, , and some Baptist denominations.
The liturgical imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday is a sacramental, not a sacrament, and in the Catholic understanding of the term the ashes themselves are also a sacramental. The ashes are blessed according to various rites proper to each liturgical tradition, sometimes involving the use of Holy Water. In some churches, they are mixed with a small amount of water or olive oil, which serve as a fixative. In most liturgies for Ash Wednesday, the Penitential psalms are read; Psalm 51 (LXX Psalm 50) is especially associated with this day. The service also often includes a corporate confession rite. In some of the low church traditions, other practices are sometimes added or substituted, as other ways of symbolizing the confession and penitence of the day. For example, in one common variation, small cards are distributed to the congregation on which people are invited to write a sin they wish to confess. These small cards are brought forth to the altar table where they are burned. In the...
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