Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the period of prayer, reflection, sacrifice and preparation for Easter Sunday, when Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Lent is considered one the major liturgical seasons for the Catholic Church.
Other Christian denominations, such as Lutherans, Episcopalians and Methodists, also participate in the Ash Wednesday ritual, in which foreheads are marked with ashes to signify humility and to remind people that life passes away here on Earth.
“That’s when I begin thinking about Easter,” said Jim Baker, a Catholic from New Orleans. “It’s about celebration and sacrifice before Easter, to show that you’re appreciative of being here.”
Baker was attending Mardi Gras, a celebration of Fat Tuesday, in which rich foods (and, we hear, some alcohol) are consumed as the faithful prepare for more than six weeks of fasting, abstinence from meat, confession and penance.
For many Catholics, Lent means giving up something.
“I’m giving up desserts,” Baker said. “I love desserts, but I’m diabetic. So it’s a sacrifice, but it will be good for me.”
This year, Easter falls on April 20.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.