Today is Ash Wednesday, which for Christians marks the beginning of the 40-day period of Lent leading to Easter on April 20.

For Catholic, Episcopal and several other denominations, Ash Wednesday involves the imposition of ashes upon the forehead in the sign of the cross.

At St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Atlantic City, the ashes to be used today sat prepared on a table near the sanctuary Tuesday, along with a gold aspersory, a container for holy water.

“Typically, the palms which are left over and dried from (Palm Sunday) last year are burned in containers and collected, and those are blessed on Ash Wednesday and imposed upon the faithful who attend Mass,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Cesarone. The ashes on the forehead, he said, symbolize “the conversion of the heart.”

Tuesday, called “Shrove Tuesday” or “Fat Tuesday,” is not a religious holiday but a secular one, marking the last day of feasting before the 40 days of abstinence and fasting during Lent.

“And in the Middle Ages, it was the last day when meat could be eaten,” Cesarone added.

At Grace Lutheran Church in Somers Point, feasting before the start of Lent hit a snag this year. Its annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper had to be canceled this year to to a snowy, saltless parking lot.

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.