What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.
We go to Church to receive a sign of the cross on our foreheads, from ashes (ashes from the blessed palms used on Palm Sunday).
The priest blesses the ashes and says: "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return".
The message of Ash Wednesday mass is:
"Pray like no one is watching you.
Fast like no one is watching you.
Do good like no one is watching you.
This is something we strive for each and every day; but, it's highlighted on Ash Wednesday, to prepare us for Lent.
What is Lent?
Lent is the season which prepares us for Easter.
It starts on Ash Wednesday and ends at Easter, lasting for 40 days (not counting Sundays).
It reminds us of that time when Jesus was sent into the wilderness. While there, he prayed and prepared for what lay ahead of him (40 days of fasting and overcoming the taunts of Satan).
We prepare for Easter by fasting and practising spiritual discipline during this time - to think about what Jesus did for us (His sacrifices).
So Lent is really a time for "cleaning out" our lives while giving thanks to God and strengthening our relationship with Him.
Lent is that to bring us closer to God.
In our busy lives we fill ourselves with snacks, buy new toys, play games on our devices and watch television, which makes us happy but that happiness is temporary.
During Lent we stop filling our lives with temporary happiness and make more room for God.
The Church encourages prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent as ways we can turn our hearts and minds to God.
During this time we attempt to incorporate activities in our daily lives which will strengthen us.
Many people "give up" something important to them for the 40 days of Lent.
To learn how to sacrifice or give up things is a way of learning to be unselfish.
One simple prayer that we are adding to our morning routine this year is called "My Morning Offering":
“God, our Father, I offer you today all I think and do and say.
I offer it with what was done on earth by Jesus Christ, your son.”
Almsgiving and Fasting
Almsgiving is tied closely to fasting.
Whatever we "give up", the money we save will go to the needy.
It is also considered that almsgiving is to give one's time and goods to those who are in need (for example, helping your parents at home, giving your grandparents a call, helping someone at school).