What YOU Need to Know About Ash Wednesday and Lent!

    March 5, 2014 is Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent. Though the Bible never specifically mentions either Ash Wednesday or Lent, both have become important traditions among many believers.

    Ash Wednesday gets its name because people rub ashes on their foreheads in the sign of the cross. Making the sign of the cross with the ashes is meant to identify the person with Jesus Christ. Although Ash Wednesday is never specifically mentioned in Scripture, the practice of rubbing dust and ashes on one’s forehead is mentioned several times in the Old Testament as a sign of mourning and/or repentance.

    Remember when Job’s friends first come to visit? The Bible says, “When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads” (Job 2:12). Upon their first sight of Job, they began to mourn with him because of his trouble.

    We see this process of mourning again after the rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13. “But Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore the long robe that she was wearing; she put her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went” (2 Sam. 13:19).

    When the prophet Jonah confronted the people of Nineveh with their sin, the king of Nineveh repented and “rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes” (Jonah 3:6).

    After a particularly disturbing vision, the prophet Daniel sought the Lord to confess and repent on behalf of the Israelites. “Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (Dan. 9:3).

    So we can see that this idea of using ashes to identify one in repentance or mourning is not unheard of in Scripture; in fact, it was a pretty common practice. As the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday is when people participating in Lent begin their particular Lenten fasts.

    The cool thing about Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent is that since neither are specifically mentioned in Scripture, we’re free to prayerfully decide if we’d like to participate. My husband David and I usually participate in an extended period of fasting during Lent, though we don’t always attend an Ash Wednesday service we hope to this year.

    Girls, the important thing to remember is that confession and repentance are things Christians should spend time doing every day, not just once a year. Fasting is something that Jesus assumed people would do and He gave very particular instructions on the appropriate way to fast in Matthew 6:16-18. So if you intend to participate in Ash Wednesday and Lent, make sure you keep these things in mind.

    “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18.

    Girls, will any of you be participating in Lent this year?

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    Jenn Arman
    Jenn Arman is a youth pastor, freelance writer and blogger. She was born in San Diego, California and raised 2 hours north east in the Inland Empire where she lives with her husband David and their cats. Jenn desires to bring glory to God and a healthy dose of reality to Christians through both writing and preaching. Visit for more on her work. You can also connect with her on and


    1. My family doesn’t participate in Ash Wednesday or Lent… it’s just something my parents and their parents were not raised to do. Not that it’s wrong, it just that we’ve, as a family, have decided not to. I always thought it was something set aside for Catholics. But now I know it isn’t. 🙂

    2. My family is “Christian” but they don’t actually believe in the Bible or God. they just use the religion to celebrate the holidays.

      As a Methodist, my parents don’t think that I should participate in these practices because its a “crazy Catholic thing” to them.They don’t understand that all Christians are the same in Gods eye, despite believing different things. Lent began with Catholics but in the end, it made its way from sect to sect of Christianity.

      I however, wanted to know the true meaning behind the holidays. I found God, gave my life to Christ, and this past year was baptized. For the first time last year, I participated in Ash Wednesday and gave up something for Lent. I’ll admit, it was hard. I wasn’t good at keeping to it. I gave up fast food- it was hard because my family is always on the run! This year however, I want to try harder! I’m not sure what I want to give up. Does anyone have any suggestions for me?

      • Great question! Actually, Catholics were the first Christians. Then Luther split from Catholicism and began the Protestant denomination, which in turn split into other denominations, and so on and so forth. So the protestant denominations that no longer recognize Lenten practices have chosen not to in their faith. In fact, the practice of observing Ash Wednesday and Lent is older than many Christian denominations themselves (some Lenten practices even date back to the apostles, and I wouldn’t call them crazy!! eek!). Interesting, huh? As for your suggestion request. Lent is not just about giving up something, it’s also about doing something for others, renewing your faith, and so on. I actually have a post coming up that lists some ways you can observe Lent, so stay posted and have a blessed Lenten season! TMG

        • I get that. But my Pastor asked us to each come up with something we want to give up for Lent. We do service projects through my church to give back to the community through the Lenten season. So again, I need something to give up. I’m not sure what I should give up. Thanks

        • Does it have to be a food? It can be a bad habit, social media (uh oh), or something else you enjoy doing. If it has to be a food, how about soda or chocolate or your favorite snack food? It has to be something you enjoy often, so giving it up is a sacrifice. Hope those ideas help and good luck! Best and blessings, TMG

        • Oh, Girl, have I been there! I was a 110% sold out Catholic and thought the same thing. Unfortunately, I was going by what people TOLD me or what I THOUGHT. Since then, I have done extensive research on the history of Christianity and even taught a middle/high school class on this subject. Long story short, sorry to tell you (and me), but Catholics were not the first Christians. I’d love to hear the sources that led you to believe this. Most Catholics don’t even believe this. Regardless, the Bible is very clear what the first Church was like. And there are actual history books to back it up! I used to be Catholic and left the Catholic church because I saw that it was not following the Bible…ANY translation of the Bible…even the Catholic version…ha ha. The Bible warns in 1Timothy 4:1-4 that in latter times that people would abstain from meats (lent rituals), forbid to marry (priests), etc. The Bible does speak of fasting, but this is to be done in secret (Matt. 6:16-18) and not at a specific time nor to go around telling people. It’s when the Lord lays it on our hearts and not to be done in a ritual. Just between God and us. 1Timothy also warns against confession…something we ALL hated doing. (And if you were like me, I felt like I always had to make up sins to be believable…ha ha.) Chapter 2 verse 5 says “There is ONE God, and ONE mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Yes, there was a time when priests had to sacrifice animals before God for confession, but the New Testament is clear that this no longer needed to be done once Jesus died on the cross. He said, “It is FINISHED!” Now we have the awesome ability to go right to God to pray and confess our sins. Jesus is all we need! He is our ONLY mediator…NOT the priest. This is a direct violation of God’s Word! You are right that Protestants “protested” from the Catholic church and split. But there are Christians that consider themselves New Testament Believers that live by the same standards as the Bible teachings (fundamentalists). They never split from the Catholic church, because they never veered from the Bible’s original teachings. All you have to do is take a fundamentalist and a Catholic, have them write down their views and line them up with the grid of the Bible. Who’s closer? So even though most of us (me included) where taught that all Christians are either Catholic or Protestant, it’s not true. It’s like how people were all taught at one time that the earth was flat and then we found out it wasn’t. The earth didn’t change…just our knowledge of it. Pretty cool, huh? 🙂 Look all the verses up for yourselves. Don’t just take my word for it. That’s how we really learn! God Bless you all! Thanks for letting me share what I’ve learned! Isn’t learning GREAT! (If you are ever in a church/religion that doesn’t let you think for yourself or criticizes you for asking questions…RUN!)

        • Thank you for your response. You are absolutely right. Research everything! Especially when you’re passing knowledge onto others. You will find scholars on every side of every issue, and then you need to use discernment in making you own decisions based on the research. That’s how we decide which denomination to follow. After-all, Christ said there is only one church. Fundamentalists questioning Catholicism often base their concerns on untruths, such as Catholics praying to saints or Mary, or adding 7 books to the Bible, or not basing doctrine on the Bible at all, and so on. When in fact, all Catholic doctrine is based on the Bible, such as confession, “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:21-23) and “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective,” (James 5:16). Also, the Church doesn’t forbid anyone to marry. When you enter the priesthood, you are choosing not to marry. “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord,” (1 Corinthians 7:32). Additionally, you may be interested in John Henry Newman’s An Essay On Development of Christian Doctrine. It traces Catholicism, it’s practices, sacraments, etc, right back to the time of the apostles. Knowledge is an amazing thing and I’d love to go on, but I’d go on forever, and I don’t want to monopolize this forum! Best an blessings to you. TMG

    3. I am a devout Catholic and when we have the ashes put on our forehead at mass, the priest says, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is to remind us that this is not our permanent home. Also, it reminds us that God made us out of the dirt. Our soul is what we need to perfect, not our bodies.

    4. This is awesome! I honestly did not know anything about ash wednesday or Lent but thanks to this article I have learned to have an open heart to learning . Thank you for this post very helpful and informative! Blessings!

    5. I participate in Lent every year, and actually, I have been taught that the 40 days are significant of the time Christ spent in the desert without food or water and was tempted by Satan. When we give up something, we will be tempted by it, but it is important to stand by our promise in remembrance of all Christ went through for us. Lent is not just about living without, though. It’s a time of giving. Many families in my church give a Lenten offering for the people around us who are less fortunate. That’s what Lent’s truly about–doing as Christ would–giving to others who need it. (BTW, I’m not Catholic, so it’s not just a Catholic thing. 🙂 )

    6. So as I was reading this I was thinking, oh I don’t want to do that because I go to a public school and that would bring more attention to myself than I want and people would judge me and I’d have to explain and be embarrassed. Is that wrong to not want to do it because I’d be embarrassed which means I’d be embarrassed of Jesus?

      • lovejesus13 – The motivations of our hearts are tricky aren’t they? The best thing about knowing God, is that He already knows our hearts and minds. He already knows that this is something you’re worried about and because of His great mercy and grace, He continues to love, cherish and want to encourage you!

        I understand completely the worry that you’d be embarrassed and have to constantly explain what you’re doing and why. To observe Lent, however, you could simply fast something that’s important to you and no one would really need to know except yourself and God and anyone you choose to tell like parents or friends.

        If the subject comes up, you could simply say that you are fasting *object of your fast* for Lent. Since Lent is observed by so many people, most people won’t ask any further questions about it. If they do, you would only need to say that “it is a time when you choose to give up something important to you for 40 days in order to reflect on your faith.”

        If you feel like this is something God would like you to do, despite your fears. I strongly encourage you to do it but maybe start small. Perhaps you could fast something important to you one day a week for the length of Lent. That might open you up to less potential embarrassment and introduce you to fasting if you haven’t done it before. <3

      • @lovejesus13 Remember if you deny christ in front of others he will deny u in front of his father. I, myself, know it can be hard to openly share your faith, but u should try your best to stand up for him. U might even share God with someone who is curious by showing the ashes on ur forehead. He knows your heart and as you grow older u will gain confidence!

    7. Hi there! Fabulous article 🙂 My only issue with Ash Wednesday (please oh please don’t get mad at me, anyone!) is that the Gospel reading of the day and the act of being signed with ashes is a bit contradictory. The Gospel (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18) basically says that it should not be obvious that you are participating in Lent or fasting or anything. However, we are signed with a cross of ashes that make it quite apparent that we are Christians observing Ash Wednesday and it is made even more obvious when you are one of few people in the area you are in doing so (I was at the mall after Mass on Ash Wednesday and was one of three people with ashes and unfortunately got a few odd glances about it!). Do any of you feel that this is a bit odd? What are your thoughts regarding the matter?

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