Early on in church history, Easter became a time of celebrating new converts and the return of those who had fallen away. The time before Easter became a time set aside for repentance, preparation for baptism for new believers, and fasting and prayer. The 40 days prior to Easter (except Sundays) were called Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday which included the marking of foreheads with the ashes from burnt Palm Sunday ferns.

Dr. Mark Muska, Professor of Bible at University of Northwestern shares a brief history of the ancient church tradition about this special time of the year for Christians. He mentions how ashes were often a symbol of repentance and grieving in early Jewish and Christian cultures:

It’s really a time of repenting of our sins and grieving for our sins and using those words … Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return … is acknowledging that it is only through Christ that you have eternal life.

Listen to the whole interview to learn more about the history of Ash Wednesday, the meaning of some of the traditions, and ways you can observe Lent.

Ash Wednesday

Program originally aired on Ash Wednesday, 2011.