Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, which commences 40 days (excluding Sundays) before Easter, to represent the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation. Accordingly, Christians often fast during Lent.
In this service, ashes are ceremonially placed on the heads of Christians, marking their foreheads with the sign of the cross. Traditionally the ashes are made from burning the palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service.
The usual words delivered are, ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel’ or ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’.