Everything you need to know about why we observe the first day of Lent when we do
Ash Wednesday, the first day of the penitential season of Lent in the Catholic Church, is always 46 days before Easter Sunday. It is a “movable” feast that is assigned a date in the calendar only after the date of Easter Sunday is calculated.
How is it calculated? I’m glad you asked.
According to the norms established by the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) and later adopted for Western Christianity at the Synod of Whitby, Easter Sunday falls each year on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This year the vernal equinox falls on Monday, March 20, 2017 and the first full moon after that occurs on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Therefore, Easter Sunday is celebrated this year on April 16. If you want Ash Wednesday, just count backwards 46 days and you get March 1, 2017.
But why 46? I thought Lent was the season of “40 days” in the desert. What’s the deal?
The six Sundays in Lent are not considered part of the official “Lenten fast” (every Sunday is a special remembrance of the Resurrection of Christ), and so if you subtract six from 46, you get the famous 40 days of Lent.
There you have it. That is why this year Ash Wednesday is on March 1.
Read more: Suggestions for Lenten reading, 2017