In those Anglican traditions which observe the Transfiguration as the last Sunday before Lent it closes the season of Epiphany. Where the Transfiguration is observed later in the year (6th August in England), Epiphany concludes with Candlemas. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the penitential period corresponding to the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by the Devil. Liturgically, Lent is marked, like Advent, by purple vestments and the omission of the Gloria. Ash Wednesday takes its name from the practice of marking the forehead of penitents with a cross in ash as a reminder that from dust they came and to dust they will return. It is also a reminder of our baptismal vows, when the sign of the cross was first placed on us. The ashes used are traditionally obtained by burning the palm crosses of the previous year. Lent has traditionally been a period of fasting, but the obligation to fast is now much less emphasised, and in the Roman Catholic Church only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are now universally prescribed as fast days. Ash Wednesday is preceded by Shrove Tuesday, the day when the faithful went to confession so that they could enter Lent absolved or ‘shriven’ from their sins. It is also known as Pancake Tuesday, from the practice of eating pancakes on that day.
A Word in Season