On Ash Wednesday, either at Mass or at a special celebration, people of all ages receive ashes in the form of a cross on their foreheads. As the persons who are distributing the ashes make the Sign of the Cross, they say: Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel (adapted from Mark 1:15) or Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return (adapted from Genesis 3:19). The ashes are made of the palm remaining from the previous year's Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion.
Since biblical times, fasting and abstinence have been considered appropriate expressions of repentance for sin. As Catholics, we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and we abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and on all the Fridays of Lent. Fasting and abstaining from meat reminds us of our reliance on God, who is the source of all abundance and nourishment. As Catholics, we are encouraged to fast voluntarily and occasionally throughout the year in order to practice self-denial, to lead a life of moderation that deepens our compassion for people who are in need, and to develop a deeper hunger and thirst for God.
Stations of the Cross
The stations are a popular Lenten and Holy Week devotion first observed in the city of Jerusalem. The practice then spread to other areas during the Middle Ages. Praying the stations involves tracing Jesus' journey from the court of Pilate to Calvary and eventually to the tomb. In churches where images or plain crosses with numbers represent Jesus' steps, people walk from station to station to pray and reflect on the event portrayed in the station. There are fourteen stations, but in many devotional books a fifteenth has been added, the Resurrection.