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Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the Western Christian calendar. Occurring 46 days before Easter, it is a moveable fast in that the date for Easter is determined by the Jewish Calendar (which is lunar as opposed to solar). The notion of 40 days comes from the gospel retelling of Jesus spending 40 days fasting in the desert. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day liturgical period of prayer & fasting.
Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a reminder and celebration of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. This symbolism comes from many Biblical passages, including the one we’ll listen to tonight. The ashes used are typically gathered from the burning of the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday.