Skip to main content

How to Understand the Meaning of Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is a Christian holiday marking the beginning of Lent -- the period of fasting and repentance that precedes Easter. Here's how to comprehend its meaning and significance.


  • Step 1: Study pre-Church history Study pre-Church history. Even before the Catholic Church was founded, there was a tradition of penitents showing humility by covering themselves with sackcloth and ashes.
  • Step 2: Study early Church history Study early Church history. In the early days of the Roman Catholic Church, the first day of Lent -- Ash Wednesday -- was the day individual penitents began their penance, covering themselves with sackcloth and ashes. Penitents remained apart from the community until the Thursday before Easter.
  • Step 3: Study medieval Church history Study medieval Church history. Between the 8th and 10th centuries, the custom of individual penance was replaced by penance of the entire congregation.
  • TIP: From the 8th century, the first day of Lent became known as the Day of Ashes and ashes were placed on the foreheads of the faithful.
  • Step 4: Study modern Church traditions Study modern Church traditions. Roman Catholics today are encouraged to fast, pray, and repent their sins on Ash Wednesday. Their foreheads are still marked by ashes on this day.
  • FACT: Ash Wednesday is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.

You Will Need

  • Church history and traditions

Popular Categories