Catholics and members of some Protestant denominations will display a visible sign of penance as they recognize Ash Wednesday today, the beginning of Lent, 40 days leading up to Easter.
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Lent is a season of penance, reflection and fasting which "prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption," according to Catholic Online. The ashes are a symbol of penance for sin, and mark a period of 40 days of sacrifice to achieve sacramental absolution.