Ash Wednesday is a holy day of prayer and fasting in many Western Christian denominations. It is preceded by Shrove Tuesday and marks the first day of Lent, the six weeks of penitence before Easter.[1]

Ash Wednesday is observed by Catholics, Lutherans, Moravians, Anglicans, as well as by some churches in the Reformed, (including certain Congregationalist, Continental Reformed, and Presbyterian churches), Baptist, Methodist and Nazarene traditions.[2][3][4]

Ash Wednesday is traditionally observed with fasting and abstinence from meat in several Christian denominations.[5][6][7] As it is the first day of Lent, many Christians begin Ash Wednesday by marking a Lenten calendar, praying a Lenten daily devotional, and making a Lenten sacrifice that they will not partake of until the arrival of Eastertide.[8][9]

Ash Wednesday

A cross marked in ash on a worshipper’s forehead
Type Christian
Observances Holy Mass, Divine Service, Holy Qurbana, Service of worship
Fasting and abstinence
Placing of ashes on the head
Date 46 days before Easter Sunday
2023 date 22 February
2024 date 14 February
2025 date 5 March
2026 date 18 February
Frequency Annual


Many Christians attend special Ash Wednesday church services, at which churchgoers receive ash on their foreheads. Ash Wednesday derives its name from this practice, in which the placement of ashes is accompanied by the words, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or the dictum “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”[10][11] The ashes are prepared by burning palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations.[12]

Observing and non-observing denominations

Ash Wednesday is observed by numerous denominations within Western Christianity.[13] Latin Church Catholics observe it,[note 1] along with certain Protestants like Lutherans, Anglicans,[13] some Baptists,[16] many Methodists (including Nazarenes and Wesleyans),[17][18] the Evangelical Covenant Church,[19] and some Mennonites.[20][21] The Moravian Church[22][23] and Metropolitan Community Churches observe Ash Wednesday.[24] Churches in the United Protestant tradition, such as the Church of North India and United Church of Canada honour Ash Wednesday too.[25] Some Independent Catholics,[26][27] and the Community of Christ also observe it.[28]

Reformed churches have historically not observed Ash Wednesday, nor Lent in general, due to the Reformed regulative principle of worship.[29][30][31] Nevertheless, some churches in the Reformed tradition (including certain Congregationalist, Continental Reformed, and Presbyterian churches) do observe Lent today, although often as a voluntary observance.[32][33][34] The Reformed Church in America, for example, describes Ash Wednesday as a day “focused on prayer, fasting, and repentance.”[2] The liturgy for Ash Wednesday thus contains the following “Invitation to Observe a Lenten Discipline” read by the presider:[3