Why does Lent start on a Wednesday?

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Every Liturgical Year, the Church starts the 40 day Lenten journey with the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday.

However, a question some Catholics may ask is, “Why does the Church start Lent on a Wednesday? Why not on a Sunday?

Every Sunday is an Easter Sunday (we celebrate the resurrection of Christ). Therefore we do not start Lent on Sunday. One fact that some Catholics may not be aware: Lent lasts 40 days EXCLUDING Sundays. Why? Because on Sundays, Catholics celebrate the resurrection. Every Sunday is technically Easter Sunday. Since Sunday is a day of celebration, it would not make sense to be observing a penitential tone for such day. Therefore, the start of Lent, Ash Wednesday, a day shrouded with a penitential tone and atmosphere takes place on a day that is not Sunday.

Lent is a 40 day period for us to prepare our souls for Christ’s resurrection. In the Ash Wednesday Liturgy, the Priest distributes ashes as a reminder that: “We are dust and dust we shall return” (Gen. 3:19) and that we have to “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel” (Mk 1:15).

Why do we use ashes? The people of the Old Testament put ashes on them and wore clothing of sackcloth as a sign of repentance. We are now in the 21st century but we still continue to use ashes as a sign of penance in the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday. Also, in the day’s Liturgical Readings, we are reminded of the three things we have to do during Lent: Pray, fast and do almsgiving (cf Mt 6:1-6, 16-18). Jesus tries to tell us that when doing these three works, we are to leave those works to only the person and God to know. We should be doing these works to get to the reward in heaven not the rewards on earth. 

When we receive the ashes, remember that we are small but not forgotten by God. We receive ashes as a sign of humility, recognizing in front of our brothers and sisters that we are sinners.

During this Lenten season, we should pray that we may become more humble. We also pray that we may become people of charity and people justice. We pray for peace for we know that there continues to be wars around the world and persecution of Christians.

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About Vincent Pham

Vincent is a humanities student of the University of Toronto’s Trinity College of the Faculty of Arts and Science. He hopes to pursue a double major in Ethics, Law and Society, and Philosophy.
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