The Origin of Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday entered the calendar in the early sixth century when the desire arose to have forty actual days of fasting before Easter. Sundays were never fast days, so to get to forty, one had to add four days to the six weeks of Lent. In the Christian lands along the Rhine River the devotional practice of imposing ashes arose as people imitated what they heard in Bible passages such as 2 Samuel 13:19, Ezekiel 27:30, Job 2:12, and Jonah 3:6. What was once a private devotion came to be practiced publicly in the eighth century, and by the year 1000 it was commonplace in many celebrations at the beginning of Lent. The distribution of ashes was formally added to the Missal at Rome in the thirteenth century and this ancient symbol of repentance is now widely used among most Christian denominations at the beginning of Lent.
© Liturgical Publications Inc