What is the Meaning of Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday, in the calendar of Western Christianity, is the first day of Lent and occurs 46 days before Easter. It is a movable feast, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It can occur as early as February 4 or as late as March 10.

At Masses and services of worship on this day, ashes are imposed on the foreheads of the faithful (or on the tonsure spots, in the case of some clergy). The priest, minister, or in some cases officiating layperson, marks the forehead of each participant with black ashes in the shape of a cross, which the worshipper traditionally retains until it wears off. The priest or minister says one of the following when applying the ashes:
Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.
—Genesis 3:19
Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.
What is the Meaning of Ash Wednesday?, Catholic Ash Wednesday, Ash Wednesday
In the Catholic understanding of the term, the liturgical imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday is a sacramental, not a sacrament, and the ashes themselves are also a sacramental. The ashes are blessed according to various rites proper to each liturgical tradition, sometimes involving the use of Holy Water. Ashes, being sacramentals, may be given to anyone who wishes to receive them, as opposed to Catholic sacraments, which are generally reserved for church members, except in cases of grave necessity. In the Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting, abstinence from meat, and repentance—a day of contemplating one's transgressions.