Today, March 5th marks the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday. Many will make an attempt to attend Mass this morning and receive a blessing with ashes marking the forehead. However, attendance is not considered mandatory by the Catholic church.
The ash is made with olive branches or other timber, and was blessed on Palm Sunday last year. The ash is a symbol of the ancient rites with which converted sinners submitted themselves to canonical penance. It is done to recognize the fragility and mortality of each, to be redeemed by the mercy of God.
Those who receive the blessing need not be Catholic and many participate in the ceremony in preparation for baptism to be the day of Easter. It is a day of “open door” for all who wish to approach the catholic church, including children, adolescents, adults.
Lent also marks the beginning of traditional days of fasting in the catholic Church. Some observe the traditional by refraining for eating meat on Friday. Lent continues until Easter Sunday.