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What is Ash Wednesday? Everything you need to know about the first day of Lent

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, when millions of Christians across the globe practice fasting and prayer in the six weeks before Easter Sunday.

Tens of millions of Christians from multiple denominations across the globe will begin observing Lent with the start of Ash Wednesday on Feb. 22, 2023. 

The holy holiday is meant to open up Christians to spiritual reflection and to connect with God through communal fasting and prayer. Ash Wednesday occurs approximately six weeks before Easter Sunday — the resurrection of the Christian savior and begotten son of God, Jesus Christ.

The overall purpose of Ash Wednesday is to honor the 40 days Christ spent in the desert by fasting and practicing self-control. 

Before giving his sermons, Jesus spent 40 days traveling in the desert, where he was tempted by Satan, according to the Bible. 


Giving up a common luxury and fasting on Ash Wednesday helps Christians prepare for Lent and the celebration of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascent into Heaven. 

Various denominations observe Ash Wednesday during different dates leading up to Easter Sunday with unique traditions. 

Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists, and Methodists are the denominations within the Western Christian world that recognizes Ash Wednesday. During Roman Catholic mass, one of the biggest services takes place at the start of Lent. 

However, the Eastern Orthodox begin their Lenten season on a Monday rather than Wednesday. The term that the Orthodox churches to describe the opening of Lent is "Clean Monday." 

Those within the Orthodox church who do follow some rules of the Western Rite usually have their Ash Wednesday take place on a different date than the other denominations. 

The largest denomination that recognizes Ash Wednesday is the Roman Catholic Church, which generally has a large service at the Vatican in Rome. 


The fasting rules on Ash Wednesday differ according to the particular denomination; however, Catholics do not eat meat during their fasting on the holy date. 

In addition, the church allows young and older Catholics to eat one full meal and two smaller meals on Ash Wednesday. 

These fasting rules typically occur on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but some Catholics follow the fasting traditions throughout all of Lent.

Lenten suppers are also hosted by a variety of churches to open the fast and encourage communal participation as Christians begin their season of spiritual reflection. 

The main practice of Ash Wednesday is to place ashes on the foreheads of each member of a Catholic congregation.

Previously, older Christian communities would sprinkle ashes on their members, and they would remain with the Ashes on their bodies until Maundy Thursday in order to symbolize their reconciliation with God and Christ. 

The ashes used on Ash Wednesday originate from burnt palms used a few days before Palm Sunday. 

Worshipers have the ashes placed on their foreheads in the shape of the cross that crucified Jesus. 

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