Today is the Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lent period, is a day to express mourning and is a day of repentance in the Christian calendar. Today, Christians all around the world will have their forehead smeared with the sign of cross, made from the ashes of the palm leaves of the palm Sunday.
This is done to remind the man that he is made from ashes and will go back to ashes. Mankind is called upon to ask forgiveness for his sins on this day. In olden days, it was a tradition to smear oneself entirely with ash as a way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults. The priest, while applying the ashes says one of the following.
Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.
Urn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.
Repent, and hear the good news.
On this day, fast is observed such that, any person between age group 18 to 59, health permitting, is required to take only one full meal, with a supplement of two smaller meals which together will not amount to a full meal. Some people go to a length of observing a complete fast on this day or surviving only on bread and water.
As I said earlier, this marks the beginning of the Lent period of 40 days, until Good Friday, symbolizing the fast and the suffering of Jesus in the forest for 40 days, during which he was tempted by the devil himself. Jesus did not fall to any temptations and the people following this period are expected to do the same. This is a period of total abstinence from all the temptations of the world.
At the end of the Lent falls the Good Friday when Jesus was nailed to the cross, and he sacrificed his life to save the mankind from destruction.