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Ash WednesdayFebruary 10, 2016
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the penitential season Lent, which is calculated in the Christian liturgical cycle to start 40 days before the great feast of Easter
Sundays are not counted among the 40 days.
In the year 325 A.D., the Council of Nicea established the date of Easter as the Sunday following the first full moon after the venral equinox.
Since Easter will be celebrated March 27 in 2016, Ash Wednesday is consequently set for February 10
"Thus there were mock weddings, mock trials, and the lowest person might be crowned king for the day. Rather than pose a threat to the structure of society, it has been suggested that this one day of ritual subversion actually strengthened the social order as a sort of safety valve - allowing people to blow off steam and then return to their stations the rest of the year."
During the Middle Ages, meat was the most desired of foods. What better way to make an alimentary penance during Lent than to abstain from this pleasure?
As food historian Massimo Montari explains, "The diet required by the liturgical calendar during Lent could nonetheless be delicious. Choice fish and delicate vegetables could easily replace meat on the determined days."
To mark Ash Wednesday as the beginning of Lent, many Catholics and Protestants have the sign of the cross placed on their foreheads. Ashes are an outward expression of penitence and renewal of faith.
For some, the ashes are an outward sign of humility and reminder of Genesis 3:13 that states “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
On the dies cinerum (day of ashes) in the Catholic Church, faithful followers approach the altar and receive ashes upon their foreheads. These ashes are traditionally made from the burnt palm fronds that were blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. The ashes are sprinkled with holy water, usually fragranced with incense and blessed.
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