The name of the day comes from the custom that churchgoers are marked on the forehead with a cross of ash to symbolise death and regret for past sins. The priest will accompany the marking with a recital of Genesis 3:19 - "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return". The tradition of marking with ashes began in the early church as a way for persistent sinners to outwardly show their desire for repentance. By the end of the 10th century, the custom had spread to all the faithful.
Traditionally the ashes are created from burning the palms used in the church on Palm Sunday the previous year. Palm Sunday marked the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem after his 40 days and nights in the desert.
During the 40 days before Easter, Roman Catholics are supposed to abstain from all bodily pleasures, including the consumption of meat. This is intended to remember the fasting of Jesus, who spent 40 days in the desert before beginning his ministry. In the Catholic Church, Lent gets off to an appropriate start with Ash Wednesday as it is a day of fasting, abstinence from meat and repentance.
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