Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lent season which I will describe later in my paper. During Ash Wednesday mass is held in church, after the mass priests or other church officials mark people's foreheads with a cross of ash. These ashes is not just any ashes. Ashes used to mark people during this day was made from palms used in Palm Sunday from the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. .
Lent is an extremely important time period in many denominations of Christianity. It is mostly practiced by Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Roman Catholic churches. Lent is a period of forty days prior to Easter. In Western Christianity Ash Wednesday marks the first day or the beginning of the Lent period, Sundays are not included in the forty day count. During this long period people who are devout practitioners of Christianity tend to give up pleasurable activities, such as sex, smoking, overeating, etc. Most people restrain from consuming certain foods. This is done to mimic Jesus Christ's forty day fast in the wilderness. "Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred" (Matthew 4:1-2). The purpose of Lent above all else is to prepare people for one of the most important celebrations in Christianity. What celebration is that? It is the celebration of death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One must prepare for the celebration diligently because only with a pure heart and mind it is possible to fully relive the mystery of Christ's resurrection. The purpose of the forty day period of Lent is to provide the purification needed ween oneself off of sinful pleasures and selfishness through prayer and self-discipline, "by creating in them the desire to do God's will and to make His kingdom come by making it come first of all in their hearts" (True Meaning of Lent").