Catholics in Nigeria will, today, join their counterparts across the world to observe Ash Wednesday which marks the begining of 40 days fasting and praying.
Lent is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares Christians for Christ's resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Ashes used on Ash Wednesday are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are mixed with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. While the ashes symbolise penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts.
Speaking on the significance of Ash Wednesday, Director of Communications, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Rev Fr Ralph Madu said Ash Wednesday signified the beginning of the Lenten Season.
He explained that the practice of Ash Wednesday is taken from Old Testament teaching when ashes were used as a sign of repentance from sin, and stress that when ashes are blessed and put on the individual's forehead, they become a sacramental as the prayers offered for the blessing of the ashes gives them the power of healing.
Fr. Madu further stated that the Lenten Season is significant in the sense that it marks the 40 days period preparatory to Easter when "we are called upon by the church to mortify ourselves, practice penance, alms giving and other such acts of Christianity."
He added that if not looked at within the context of Easter which reminds us of the death of Christ on the cross for the sins of mankind and his resurrection, Ash Wednesday and Lent lose their meaning and become mere practices.