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The first day of Lent. Named from the custom of signing the foreheads of the faithful with blessed ashes. Its date depends on the date of Easter. In the early Church, public penitents were liturgically admitted to begin their penance on this day. And when this fell into disuse, from the eighth to the tenth centuries, the general penance of the whole community took place. This was symbolized by the imposition of ashes on the heads of the clergy and laity alike.
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.