Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the forty-day season of Lent. Many churches, as part of their Ash Wednesday services, practice the imposition of ashes, in which the sign of the cross is made upon the heads of the faithful, as a reminder that we “are dust, and to dust we shall return.” The ashes are often the product of burning the palm branches from the previous year’s observance of Palm Sunday. The imposition of ashes is not a requirement, but rather a nice, visible reminder of the frailty of our lives, and Christ’s sacrifice for us. This begins the “purple season;” however, like Good Friday, Ash Wednesday can also be observed with simple black banners and paraments in the church.
From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:
During the forty days of Lent, God’s baptized people cleanse their hearts through the discipline of Lent: repentance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is a time in which God’s people prepare with joy for the Paschal Feast (Easter). It is a time in which God renews His people’s zeal in faith and life. It is a time in which we pray that we may be given the fulness of grace that belongs to the children of God.