...is to outwardly show our awareness of our sins and our desire to be right with God.
When Jonah preached to Nineveh the king's
response was to put on sackcloth (similar to burlap) and to sit in ashes
as a sign of repentance (Jonah 3:3-8). In the early Church, those who
committed “big” sins (murder, adultery, etc) would have
a bucket of ashes poured over them and they would sit outside the
church asking their fellow Christians for forgiveness. After a
prescribed amount of time they would wash and rejoin the community. Puts
our meager penance into perspective, no?
receive ashes we show the world that we don't claim to be perfect and
that we need a savior. We start Lent this way so we can start with full
knowledge that without Easter we are doomed but with Easter we can live
This is yet another reason Catholics put ashes on their foreheads on Ask Wednesday.