"And To Dust You Shall Return." FAQs about Ash Wednesday

Easter is an important holiday celebrated worldwide, even if not everyone is religious. For Christians, it is the most important day in the liturgical year, the day that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

For everyone else, it's a perfect opportunity to buy chocolate and take a three day weekend.
But if you rewind about forty-six days, you will see some people with black ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross.
The ashes are put in the shape of a cross.
Why do people do this? Is this a requirement for Christians? What do the ashes mean? Here are the answers to your Ash Wednesday FAQs.

Question
Why do people get ashes?

Answer 
People get ashes for two reasons.

  1. To show that we are mortal and that we all will die, and 
  2. To show repentance for our sins. 
That sounds crazy, right? If I was an outsider looking in, I certainly would be running the other direction from the Christians. However, there is a ton of symbolism behind getting these ashes, so bear with me.

Ashes are distributed on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. Lent is a season of penitence, where we deny ourselves something that does not draw us closer to God, give ourselves to a good cause, or both.

We do this in order to become more like Christ, who died willingly on the Cross for us. It is also to prepare us for the joy of Easter, where we rejoice in the knowledge that Jesus is risen.
The ashes are put on our forehead with the words, "Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." This symbolizes our mortality and that we will all die. It also means that we are to have faith in Jesus Christ, who beat death so that we may have eternal life with him in Heaven.
The ashes also symbolize repentance. This usually takes form in going to Confession (for Catholics), giving up something that you love to do, or doing something kind for others.

Question
Are Christians required to do this?

Answer
No, Christians are not required to do this. It's a great way to start off Lent, but it is certainly not required.

Question
Can people besides Catholics receive the ashes?

Answer
Anyone of any faith (and age) can receive the ashes.

Question
When can you wash the ashes off?

Answer
The ashes can be washed off right after you get them or later that day. People will typically wear ashes for the rest of the day, but if you can't, that's completely fine too.

Question
How often does this happen?

Answer
Lent happens annually, so that means that Ash Wednesday happens annually too.
Question
What are the ashes made from?

Answer
The ashes are made from palm branches distributed the previous year at Palm Sunday (the day that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem). I promise that no bodies are used in making the ashes.

Question
Who distributes the ashes?

Answer
Catholic churches distribute ashes every year as do Episcopalian, Methodist, and Anglican churches.

I hope these questions helped answer any questions you had about Lent and why we Christians go around with "dirt" on our foreheads for a day.

--By Hannah Westerman, LS News reporter

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