Ash Wednesday 2019: When and What Is the First Day of Lent?

ash wednesday at st pats
Cardinal Timothy Dolan distributes ashes on Ash Wednesday at St. Patrick's Cathedral on February 10, 2016, in New York City. Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

The season of celebrating and indulging is over and Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent is officially underway. Tuesday concluded Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday and Pancake Tuesday, a day of celebrating and feasting before the season of Lent begins.

Wednesday was the first day of Lent, the period of 40 days, plus Sundays, leading up to Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Typically, Ash Wednesday is one of the biggest holy days for those in the Catholic church and Christian churches as well.

Lent can fall any time between February 4 and March 11 each year depending on when Easter falls. This year, Easter is set to fall on Sunday, April 21. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. This is why the date of Easter can vary so widely each year.

Those who participate in Ash Wednesday usually go to church services that are sometimes focused on reflection and then attendees take part in a kind of confession of their sins before Lent begins. At some point during the service, the attendees usually approach the altar to receive ashes on their foreheads. Usually when the ashes are applied in the shape of the cross on the forehead the phrase, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return," is said as well.

Some people choose to wear the ashes on their forehead all day while others remove the ashes before going to work or school. Some people even stay home for the remainder of the day. Whether or not a person stays home or leaves the ashes on tends to be more of a personal choice and varies from person to person.

The ashes that are used on Ash Wednesday come from the palms that were burned on the previous Palm Sunday, held before Easter the year prior. They symbolize both death and repentance, according to It's a way to repent, a theme that carries throughout Lent.

There will be a special mass held at the Vatican in Italy on Wednesday by the Pope, according to the Vatican's schedule. That is held at 5:30 p.m. local time at the Vatican, or 11:10 a.m. ET, Wednesday, at the Basilica of Santa Sabina. Anyone hoping to attend that mass needs to have tickets in advance. That mass will be televised live on It's unclear whether or no the mass from the Vatican will be added to the Vatican YouTube channel.