I’ve already posted an explanation on what lent means, but we actually start this period in the churches calendar with the day we call Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday follows on from Shrove Tuesday (or pancake day as we know it in the UK) and is a Christian holy day of prayer and the start of 6 weeks of fasting, penitence, and perhaps reflection before Easter.
Ash Wednesday get its name from either ash’s being sprinkled over heads or more commonly, placing ashes in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of church goers with the words being said “repent and believe in the gospel”.
Where do we get the ashes from?
Well, different denominations have differing ideas, the Catholic and Methodist Church say that the ashes should be the palm branches blessed from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service, while the Church of England says that they “may be made” from the burnt palm crosses of the previous year, (technically I suppose they are saying roughly the same thing). We don’t have any information as to if we add anything to the ashes, however the Catholic church add a sprinkling of holy water when blessing them, however the Church of England sources suggests mixing the ashes with a small amount to holy water or olive oil as a fixative, this allows may Christians to keep their mark visible throughout the day be it for their own religious concerns or indeed an exercise in regions freedom, this however is not a hard and fast rule and the ash mark may even be wiped off immediately after receiving
We can credited this custom to Pop Gregory I round about 540-604 and then revised in 1969 which adopted a newer wording which I mentioned at the start “Repent and believe in the Gospel", an older Latin translated wording “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”, this being the words spoken by Adam and Eve after their sin, falling out of favor.
Whatever words are spoken and used, it reminds worshippers of their sins and their own mortality, and gives everyone, especially during this time, during this part of the churches calendar the opportunity to repent and ask forgiveness.