I remember being in the 4th grade and experiencing my first Ash Wednesday. I had gone to public school before then, but I started Catholic school my 4th grade year. I had no idea what was going on with all of the people with dirt on their foreheads. Never in my approximate ten years of life had I seen that. I would get awfully familiar with it over the next few years, though.
I went to mass that day with my class and, like any other person attempting to assimilate into the practices of an unfamiliar group, followed everyone in line to receive my ashes and blessing from the priest. I would later learn about the Ninevites, and how, in penance, they donned sacks and prayed in the dirt (dust, ashes). This is why some Christians get ashes placed upon their foreheads, to symbolize humility.
These ashes are made from the burnt palms from the last year’s Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday takes place the week before Easter and represents Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. During Christ’s arrival, the people threw their cloaks and palm fronds in front of him.
I usually wouldn’t write about something so specific but, because the event is so ubiquitous, I felt it justifiable. I was not aware of the statistical breakdown of religions in the world until very recently, after beginning to look into it. Christians comprise 2.2 billion (32%) of the world’s population, 1.2 billion of those Christians being Catholic (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-21443313). While it is not only Catholics that celebrate Ash Wednesday, and the Lenten season, the overwhelming majority are Catholic, thus my generalization.
I hope that everyone had a good Wednesday, whether or not you were celebrating Ash Wednesday!