Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a 40 day period of reflection and preparation leading up to Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus’ sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days, and use it as a time for prayer, penance and self-discipline. Not many people fast for the whole of Lent; it is more usual these days for believers to give up a favourite food or activity.
Both eastern and western churches observe Lent, but they count the 40 days differently. The western church excludes Sundays, which is why there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
In Ash Wednesday services, churchgoers are marked on the forehead with a cross of ashes as a sign of penitence. The ashes are made by burning palm crosses from the previous Palm Sunday. These ‘Ashing’ services usually end with the ashes being washed off, as a sign that the participants have been cleansed of their sins. St Andrew’s service of ‘Ashing’ will take place on Ash Wednesday, 26 February at 11.30am.