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The origins of liturgical use of ashes originated in Old Testament times and it symbolized mourning, mortality and penance.
Use of ashes on Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the 40-day preparation period (Sundays excluded) for Easter.
Presently ashes used during Ash Wednesday Liturgy are made from burned palm branches distributed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. The priest blesses the ashes and imposes them on the foreheads of the faithful, making the sign of the cross and saying, "Remember, man you are dust and to dust you shall return," or "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."