Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. The Lenten season is a 40-day period (Quadragesima) of fasting, penance and reflection in preparation for Holy Week and Easter. On Ash Wednesday, many Christian traditions hold services that focus on repentance. Ashes are imposed on the foreheads of worshippers in the form of a cross. Imposing the ashes, the minister or priest says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The solemn ritual is a reminder of human mortality and dependence upon God. It calls worshippers to renew their commitment to Christ.

During Lent, many Christians practice fasting or partial fasting in preparation for Holy Week, just as Moses, Elijah and Jesus were said to have fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. The season is a time to practice self-denial, to lay aside vices, and to dedicate oneself to acts of charity. Roman Catholic tradition includes abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent as well as a strict fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.