Ash Wednesday: What the forehead mark symbolizes

Ash Wednesday: What the forehead mark symbolizes
Ash Wednesday: What the forehead mark symbolizes
Posted at 6:17 PM, Feb 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-10 18:17:08-05

The beginning of Lent has arrived.

Ash Wednesday, mainly observed by Catholics, is Feb. 10, 2016, and thus begins a 40-day period of fasting before Easter. The tradition points back to when Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days, as written in the book of Matthew in the Holy Bible.

Those unfamiliar with Lent may be curious about the ash cross marked on foreheads of Christians participating in Ash Wednesday. It is symbolic of the Bible verse Genesis 3:19, which reads, "For you were made from dust, and to dust you shall return."

The ashes are usually made by burning palm fronds distributed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. According to, clergy all over the world dispense the ashes on the foreheads and remind those receiving them of the Genesis verse.

The tradition is so important there is a movement gaining momentum in Florida called "Ashes to Go," where communion would be made available to homebound parishioners. According to Naples Daily News, the Rev. Dr. Michael Rowe of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Bonita Springs said the idea of implementing ashes outside of the church was being discussed and may be instituted for homebound members.

Other churches throughout the U.S. have provided different ways for people to receive ashes. Some take to the streets to provide ashes to anyone interested, such as Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bakersfield, Calif., which last year gave markings near the city's courthouses.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, a methodist church offered drive-thru ashes for those who could not attend mass.

More about Lent
- Lent is a period of self-reflection.
- Those observing Lent typically give up something for 40 days. One of the most popular things given up is chocolate.
- Some may choose to begin doing something better rather than give something up. That may be volunteering, praying more or eating healthier, for example.
- As part of fasting through Lent, Catholics will not eat meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays throughout Lent, in accordance with the Code of Canon Law. That is why there is an emphasis on fish fry dinners this time of year.