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Why do people get ashes on their head today?

And why don’t some eat meat?

University College Dublin health and performance science student Lauren McElwaine from Donegal is pictred after attending Ash Wednesday mass which Archbishop Diarmuid Martin presided over today.
University College Dublin health and performance science student Lauren McElwaine from Donegal is pictred after attending Ash Wednesday mass which Archbishop Diarmuid Martin presided over today.
Image: Mark Stedman

TODAY IS ASH Wednesday, as you may have noticed.

You’ll see some Christian people walking around sporting marks on their head from where a priest has made a cross.

You will also see people queueing to buy fish because they’re not supposed to eat meat.

So, what’s the day all about?

What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. So you now have to give up sweets, too.

Lent is the run-up to Easter and is meant to be a time of reflection, prayer and fasting.

On Ash Wednesday, the ashes of the palms from the last year’s Palm Sunday are placed on the heads of members of the congregation.

This is sometimes accompanied by the priest saying:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return

or

Repent, and believe in the Gospel.

The day is seen as a way for Christians to remind themselves that they need to repent their sins.

What do the ashes mean?

The ashes are meant to signify penance, mourning and mortality.

In the beginning, people would put ashes on themselves and repent publicly, but this practice soon fell away.

You can remove the ashes as soon as you like, but many people wear them all day.

Why are people told not to eat meat?

While this is not mentioned in the Bible – in fact there is no direct mention of wearing ashes at all – Church law says that Catholics over the age of 14 should abstain from meat.

They should also only eat one full meal and two small snacks, although this part only applies for people aged 18-59.

The fasting reminds Catholics of penance.

Abstention from meat is observed on Fridays during Lent, but this is only church-mandated on Good Friday.

Read: Poll: Will you eat meat today?

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