When is Ash Wednesday 2011?

When is Ash Wednesday?

Photo by Maureen Lunn on Flickr

Ash Wednesday 2011 will mark the beginning of the season of Lent in the Catholic Church. The date of the observance differs each year; in 2011, Ash Wednesday falls on March 9. Lent is a season of repentance, prayer and fasting in the Catholic faith, and certain rituals take place for followers of the religion.

Lent begins 46 days (40 days not counting Sundays) before Easter Sunday, when most Christian faiths celebrate the resurrection from death of Jesus Christ. The date of Easter is determined by the appearance of the "paschal" full moon, which is the first full moon that rises on or after the Vernal, or Spring, Equinox. Easter Sunday comes on the first Sunday after that moon. The date of Ash Wednesday is calculated from that. In 2011, Easter Sunday falls on April 24.

Other religions that recognize Lent, such as the Eastern Orthodox Church, calculate the dates differently.

On Ash Wednesday in the Catholic Church, members attend a special service where a priest, minister or in some cases a layperson dips a finger into ashes, draws the shape of a cross on the faithful's forehead with the ashes and recites a Bible verse, usually Genesis 3:19: "Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return" (or words to that effect).

The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are made by burning the palm fronds that were blessed on the previous year's Palm Sunday (the week before Easter). A priest blesses the ashes by sprinkling holy water on them. The Ash Wednesday ritual traces its origin to religious ceremonies of the Middle Ages, and the ashes symbolize the penance that – along with prayer and ritual fasting – marks the season of Lent.

Many non-Catholics are interested each year about when is Ash Wednesday for another reason: The day before is Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, a day of feasting, drinking and debauchery that is celebrated by communities and cities around the globe. The Mardi Gras, or Carnival, season actually begins each year on January 6, but most people associate the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday with the biggest parties and parades, especially in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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