What is the origin of Ash Wednesday?

Ashes applied on the foreheads of Catholics today signifies repentance Yet, in the past, ashes were used as a form of penance.

Ash Wednesday cross
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The earliest mention of Ash Wednesday in writing is from the 8th century. Abbot Aelfric write in "Lives of the Saints" that people who repented covered themselves with ashes and wore sacks as clothing on Dies Cinerum or Day of Ashes.

This old practice is also mentioned in the book of Job in the bible, where Job says:  "Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). In Matthew 11:21, Jesus also mentiones the practice: "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes."

Today, the use of ashes to show repentance continues in Bicol, as Catholics take part in this ancient ritual that connects them to early Church history.

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