Ash Wednesday is the official start of the Season of Lent. A season for penance, reflection and fasting in order to prepare ourselves for Jesus' Resurrection and for our Redemption.
Why we receive the ashes
Following the example of the Ninevites, who did penance in "sackcloth and ashes" signs our foreheads with ashes to humble our hearts and reminds us of our mortality on Earth, and the only Redemption is with Our Lord.
"Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return".
Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church to help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice. The custom is from an old ceremony. Christians who had committed grave faults were obliged to do public penance. On Ash Wednesday the Bishop blessed the hair shirts which they were to wear during the forty days, and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms from the previous year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the holy place because of their sins, as Adam, the first man was turned out of paradise on account of his disobedience. They did not enter the Church again until Maundy Thursday after having won reconciliation by the toil of forty days' penance and sacramental absolution. Later on, all Christians, either public or secret penitents, came out of devotion to receive ashes.
The ashes are made from the previous years blessed palms from Palm Sunday. God is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy to those who call on Him with repentant hearts and lives. Divine mercy is of utmost importance, the Church calls on us to implore it during the entire Lenten season with reflection, prayer and penance.
Ashes to Easter | Ash Wednesday