Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent
March 6 was observed as Ash Wednesday across the globe. A day of fast and abstinence, it marks the beginning of Lent. On this day, Catholics attend mass and have a cross of ash marked on their forehead. The day derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of believers as a celebration and reminder of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. As the cross is being applied the priest utters, “For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”
Ashes are collected from the palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday which are burnt. The ashes are blessed the first mass of the day. The act of putting on ashes symbolises fragility and mortality, and the need to be redeemed by the mercy of God.
Ash Wednesday occurs 46 days before Easter, and is a moveable fast that can fall as early as February 4 and as late as March 10. This year Easter falls on April 21. According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan.
In the Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting, abstinence from meat, and repentance—a day of contemplating one’s wrongdoings. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 (whose health enables them to do so) are permitted to consume only one full meal, which may be supplemented by two smaller meals, which together should not equal the full meal.
Some Catholics will go beyond the minimum obligations demanded by the Church and undertake a complete fast or a bread and water fast. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also days of abstinence from meat (mammals and fowl), as are all Fridays during Lent. Some Catholics continue fasting throughout Lent, as was the Church’s traditional requirement, concluding only after the celebration of the Easter Vigil. The Alleluia and the Gloria are suppressed until Easter.
In Goa too, the Catholics and other Christians will observe the beginning of the forty days of penance with fasting and abstinence. Some will begin their repentance from this day till the celebrations of Easter. Quite a few will observe very strict fasting during the days of lent with not partaking of meat, fish and only consuming a strictly vegetarian diet. Many abstain from alcohol and smoking too, as a sacrifice.