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Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
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Our Father beckons: "Return to me with your whole heart." Each Lent the Church offers us a 40-day retreat designed to help us respond to God's call. Lent is the primary penitential season of the liturgical year. We partake in Lent with prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with the Easter Triduum — Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The Triduum is the liturgical celebration to help us embrace the ultimate act of love: Jesus' passion, death and resurrection, the foundation of the Christian faith.
Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation. The days of obligation all celebrate an event in the life of Jesus or Mary or a person (or persons as in the case of All Saints Day). Ash Wednesday does not, but it marks the beginning of a season. The day is chosen based on the fact that it’s 40 days before Good Friday. It is, however, a day of fast and abstinence. See Fasting and Abstinence Guidelines to learn more. All are encouraged to attend Mass on Ash Wednesday. Visit our Parish Directory to contact a parish in your area for Mass times.
During Ash Wednesday Mass, ashes are blessed and all come forward to receive these ashes, which are placed, in the sign of the cross, on everyone's forehead. Why? The prayer that is said as ashes are given explains it very well. The words are a reminder of our origins, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes and the whole season of Lent are a time to refocus on our relationship with God and that relationship starts with a dependence on God for our very existence. To recall that only with the breath of God can we have life is motivation to reorder whatever part of life needs it. As God breathed life into the dust at the beginning he can breathe new life into those who have fallen into sin. The ashes are a sign of mortality and a sign of renewal in Christ. To learn more, see Lent Q&A. For suggestions about how to get more out of Lent, see 10 ways to deepen experience of Lent.