What is Ash Wednesday? Why is there a service using ashes?
Ash Wednesday is common in Western Christianity, not just for Catholics but also in other denominations. The use of ash in our service only occurs once a year before Lent starts running for 40 days until Easter. It is the season of repentance, the sin you want to change from.
But why the ashes? The ash is part of the dust, and dust is part of the ground. Dust is the absence of water. When you add water, you have clay (Job 10:9).
Let’s go back to the first book of Moses called Genesis. When God separated the land from water (Gen. 1:10), dust was in the firmament of his works. The firmament is the field of all the elements, the vault, or the domain for his creation. On the third day, the terrain where dust is part of was formed, the Earth.
Then Adam was formed out of dust (Gen. 2:7) three days after Earth was formed. It is a symbolic reminder for us to remember that humans were made from dust (Gen. 28:14), with water and other Earth minerals. At the end of our life, the body must return to dust (Gen. 3:!9, Job 34:15) while our Soul returns to Heaven.
Joshua, Job, Lamentations, and Ezekiel had used the dust on their head when they cried out for repentance to God. The dust on their head was to show they were formed from Earth.
When God sees us with ash/dust on our heads, he sees our thoughts knowing that our body is only a temporary vessel for our Soul during our time on Earth. It helps us to remember that we are also one with Nature and allows us to remember that God formed us.
The Church established the date of Ash Wednesday as part of the Lent and Easter celebration. However, the ash/dust ritual on your head can be done anytime you want outside the Church service. Native Americans and other countries are similar in their practice where they paint their faces. It has been their cultural tradition for many years before the Christian era.