February 26 is Ash Wednesday and the start of Holy Week this year. This solemn ritual is a reminder of our impermanence here on earth.
What else do you know about Ash Wednesday? Here are five interesting facts:
It does not fall on the same day each year.
Though Ash Wednesday is not a movable feast, meaning it does not fall on the same day each year, it happens exactly 46 days before Easter Sunday—that’s April 12 this year.
It is not a Holy Day of Obligation
Contrary to popular belief, Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, though the faithful will attend Mass and have the priest mark a cross on their forehead with ash after the service. It is, however, a day of fasting and abstinence. This means Catholics aged 14 years old and up do not eat meat when they consume one full meal and two smaller meals on this day. Ash Wednesday is also a day of repentance: make time to go to confession before you receive the ashes on your forehead.
The ash comes from the burned palm fronds from last year’s Palm Sunday.
It’s mixed with either holy water or oil. The priest blesses the ash before he marks people on their forehead with it using his right thumb.
A simple “Thank you, Father,” will suffice.
While marking your forehead with a cross using the ash, the priest says one of the following: “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust, you shall return,” “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” or “Repent, and hear the good news.” Most people reply by whispering “Amen,” but apparently a simple “Thank you, Father” will suffice.
Ash will be sprinkled on top of the head.
With the threat of COVID 19, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines recently recommended a non-contact type of receiving ash. Instead of marking people on the forehead with ash, a priest sprinkles it on the top of people’s heads. Unusual to us Filipino Catholics, for sure, but this practice is acceptable and has in fact been the preferred way in other churches!