Ash Wednesday is a moveable feast highlighted by the Eucharistic celebration with imposition of Ashes as an external sign of repentance. It can occur as early as February 4 (February 5 on leap years) or as late as March 10 which commences the period of Lent (Kwaresma), a 40-day preparation before the great feast of Easter. Sundays are not counted in the 40 days since it is always a celebration of the Resurrection.
The ashes used are from the burnedpalapas(or palms) of the immediately preceding Palm Sunday. In the Philippines, water is mixed with these ashes and are imposed on the forehead of the faithfuls in the form of a cross by a cleric or an officiating layperson using one of the formulas below:
"Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return" (Genesis3:19).
"Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel" (Mark1:15).
"Repent, and hear the good news" (Mark1:15).
The faithful traditionally retain the ashes even at school or office until it wears off.
Ashes are sacramentals and are NOT sacraments. The ashes may be given to anyone who wishes to receive them except in cases of grave necessity.The Code of Canon Law prescribes:
Can. 1170 Blessings which are to be imparted first of all to Catholics, can also be given to catechumens and even to non-Catholics unless there is a prohibition of the Church to the contrary.
This canonical provision is under the section on sacramentals. While non-Catholics cannot receive the Catholic sacraments (except for a just cause under various circumstances), sacramentals may be more widely participated in by others unless prohibited elsewhere by law.
Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting, abstinence, and repentance—a day of contemplation.