Search Blackfriars

22 February 2023

Ash Wednesday and Lent – what do they mean?

Today is Ash Wednesday. This marks the beginning of the Lenten season, which is…

Today is Ash Wednesday. This marks the beginning of the Lenten season, which is a period of fasting, prayer and penance in preparation for the celebration of Easter.

Why do we receive the ashes?

Following the example of the Ninevites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and reminds us that life passes away on Earth. We remember this when we are told: “Remember, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice.

The ashes

The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. While the ashes symbolise penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. His Divine mercy is of utmost importance during the season of Lent, and the Church calls on us to seek that mercy during the entire Lenten season with reflection, prayer and penance.


This is a time of spiritual renewal and reflection, where we are encouraged to deepen our relationship with God and grow in faith. It is a time to examine one’s life, make amends for past mistakes and work towards personal and spiritual growth.

Lent is a time of preparation for the celebration of Easter, which is the most important feast in the Catholic calendar. During this season, we are encouraged to pray, fast and give alms as a way of preparing their hearts for the joy of Easter. We are called to practise solidarity.

During the Lenten period, we are encouraged to reflect on not only our failings but also the disparity in the world. Ultimately, we are blessed in many ways and, despite the hardships we face, there are those in the world (in vast numbers) whose plight and challenge to live each day deserve not only our sympathy, but our charity.

Sacrifice and self-discipline

Often during Lent, people focus on giving something up as a sacrifice. While this is honourable, this practice is made much more purposeful if there is a good that comes out of our sacrifice. For example, it is one thing to give up chocolate for Lent; it can be personally edifying to challenge oneself to go without something that is enjoyed. However, if one were to donate the money one would have spent on the chocolate – to a charity that works to remedy the economic disparity in the world – then, surely, this is much more worthwhile. We are not only addressing our personal spirituality, but we are engaging in compassionate action, lending a helping hand to a brother or sister in need.

This Lent, may we reflect on our mortality, embrace our humanity and seek to live more fully in accord with our deepest beliefs and values.

– Angela Collins, Assistant Principal: Religious Identity and Mission