Ash Wednesday: History, Meaning, and Where to Participate

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Catholics and Protestants alike mark the start of the Lenten season with Ash Wednesday. This holiday, highly revered on the Catholic calendar, lands on Wednesday, Mar. 1 this year. Participants gather approximately 40 days before Easter to slow down, confess, refocus, and commemorate the death of Jesus. The palm ashes from last year’s Palm Sunday service are used in the shape of a cross to mark attenders’ foreheads. The use of ash is a reminder of the Biblical words, “to dust you came, to dust you will return.”

Although most participants will attend a church or mass service, some Protestants have started taking the ashes to the streets by giving others the opportunity to enter into the season of Lent as well. It is not required for participants to keep the ashes on all day, although some find it to be a helpful reminder throughout the day. Fasting is another common practice on this day of recollection.

A Few Ways You Can Participate to Engage With The Spiritual Practice In San Diego:

At a Church

Most Catholic and Protestant churches will offer at least one Ash Wednesday service for local residents to participate in. Search for a church in your area to receive the ashes at a mass or church service. Churches typically hold services in the early morning (before work), during the lunch hour, and/or in the evening (after work). Some churches offer multiple services to accommodate everyone’s schedules, like the church below:

Saint John the Evangelist Parish Community

Ash Wednesday Mass Times

7AM – Mass with Ashes
12 Noon – Liturgy of the Word with Ashes
5:45PM – Mass with Ashes
7PM – Liturgy of the Word with Ashes

Ashes to Go

In 2010, Chicago Era episcopal churches took ashes to train stations because they recognized commuters striving for a moment of prayer and grace. These people offered those commuters ashes because many of them didn’t have enough time to go to church or even forgot it was Ash Wednesday.  In 2012 the movement went viral. Now churches all over the US, Germany, and the UK participate in bringing ashes to the street.


Photo Credit: Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, Flickr-Creative Commons

San Diego – Pacific Beach Boardwalk

Stop on by the Pacific Beach Boardwalk at the end of Thomas Avenue at 12PM, and receive ashes from the staff of St. Andrew’s By-The-Sea Episcopal Church. Or, if you would rather wait until the evening, they offer an Ash Wednesday service at their building at 7PM. 

At a Monastery

Prince of Peace Abbey 

Photo Credit: Randy OHC, Flickr-Creative Commons

Take a walk through the Stations of the Cross at Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside as a way of entering into the season of Lent. The garden at the Abbey features carvings of the scenes of the end of Jesus’ life, moving through his final hours. The Stations of the Cross is often used as a meditative walk to remember Jesus’ life and death during the season of Lent. Call the monastery ahead for details of open hours.


Katrina is an OBcean that spends her time drinking quality coffee and engaging in the community that she lives in.

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