Credidimus Caritati has placed this timely article about Ash Wednesday on their blog.

Like many of the other symbolic practices of our Church, the use of ashes to express humiliation and sorrow is something which was common in other religions. Many references to it are found in the Old Testament When David repented for his sins he cried out: “I did eat ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping.” When the people of Nineveh were aroused to penance by the preaching of the prophet Jonas, they “proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth and sat in ashes.” It is probable, therefore, that the use of ashes was introduced in the early Church by converts from Judaism because it was an observance with which they had been familiar in their former faith.

The Lenten fast, according to the ancient practice of our Church, began on the Monday after the first Sunday of Lent. Consequently the penitential season was then somewhat shorter than it is now; deducting the Sundays, there were originally only thirty-six fasting days. But about the year 700 it was seen to be fitting that the fast of the faithful should be of the same duration as that which our Blessed Lord had undergone; and the beginning of the season of penance was fixed on what we now call Ash Wednesday.


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