Ash Wednesday 2022: Why do Christians celebrate it and what does it represent?

You’re probably aware of Ash Wednesday – but what does it all mean?

By jimmy johnson
Wednesday, 2nd March 2022, 2:08 pm

Every year, following Shrove Tuesday (better known as Pancake Day) and 46 days before Easter Sunday comes Ash Wednesday. It’s a day where you may see Christians with ashes on their forehead in the shape of a cross – but what does this represent?

The ashes used to mark the Christians’ foreheads are the burned remains of palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. The ashes may be additionally sprinkled with holy water or olive oil. Some may choose to keep the ashes on throughout the day, though it not forbidden to wipe them off if you choose to do so.

It is observed by most branches of Christianity, including Catholics, Methodists and Anglicans. It represents a reminder of the mortality of being human, but at the same time, is also a wake up call to be grateful for the life that you lead.

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A worshipper receives a cross of ashes painted on her forehead during an Ash Wednesday service at the start of Lent

Christians may also fast on Ash Wednesday, with staunch followers of Christianity permitting themselves to only eat one meal on this day – and even then, it must be without meat.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a period of 46 days which culminates on Easter Sunday. During this time, Christians are supposed to give up something that they enjoy, but do not need. For example, a Christian may give up crisps or chocolate for Lent.

Historically, Christians would fast throughout each day of Lent, only consuming food once the sun had set. Today, this is rare – most believe a small sacrifice is sufficient.

Day of prayer for Ukraine

This year, many Christians will praying specifically for the situation in Ukraine, following a call to prayer by the Pope and other Christian leaders.

At Sheffield’s Anglican Cathedral, the Ash Wednesday service will be preceded by a Vigil for Peace at 5pm when there will be music, prayers and time in silence.

The cathedral’s Ash Wednesday service will follow at 7.30pm.

And the city’s Roman Catholic Cathedral – St Marie’s – is holding a Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace in the Ukraine with masses at 8am, 12.30pm and 5.30pm.