Matt Rourke, Associated Press
A man looks skyward as he participates in an Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia Wednesday, March 5, 2014, in Philadelphia. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a time when Christians prepare for Easter through acts of penitence and prayer.

Ash Wednesday is becoming more than a holiday celebrated by many Catholics to mark the beginning of Lent.

It’s becoming a social phenomenon.

For example, some churches are soliciting Ash Wednesday selfies, according to USA Today. The National Catholic Reporter and online religious magazine Busted Halo are calling for religious people to send in pictures showing them with their ashes. USA Today posted a bunch of photos of people with ashes that were submitted and sent through social media.

In addition to having increasing opportunities to share their Ash Wednesday experiences, people also have more options for receiving the ash across their foreheads than in earlier years, as culture continues to bring the holiday into the foray. Some churches in Maryland are offering drive-through services where believers can get their ashes, while worshippers in New York and Sacramento can take to the streets to participate in the ritual.

“In cities across the country on Wednesday, pastors are taking to sidewalks, parks, street corners and transit stops in their pastoral regalia to place ashes in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of anyone who stops by,” the Sacramento Bee reported.

Lent calls for Christians to sacrifice a vice or something they care for in their lives for a 40-day period, and often times that can be a dessert or junk food. And though many adjust their food diets to meet their sacrifice, media organizations and experts are offering diets of a different nature.

Dr. Manny Alvarez wrote about “The Ash Wednesday Diet” for Fox News — and it’s not about cutting out the sweets and dialing back the carbs. It’s actually about finding religion and trying to live a better lifestyle, he wrote.

For many, Lent is a season of repentance. It is a time to avoid temptation, just like Christ did for 40 days in the desert,” Alvarez wrote. His diet includes finding family time, searching for self-appreciation and cutting violence out of your life.

“By the way, the original version of this diet came out thousands of years ago — in a great book that I strongly recommend,” he wrote. “The author knew a thing or two about how to live a good life, in 10 easy steps. The book? The Bible. The recipe? The 10 Commandments.”

But what makes Ash Wednesday — a holiday not as commercialized as Christmas or Easter — so big? The Huffington Post’s writer Sara Miles said it’s because the holiday inspires people to showcase their religion and leads to people being more open about their faith and more equal in the world. And that equality is seen on Ash Wednesday with the ashes, which signifies that life on Earth will eventually end, Miles wrote.

“The streets are always full of people going about their various business: buying and selling, kissing and fighting, suffering, hanging out,” Miles wrote. “And one day a year we get to stop, look at each other and tell the truth. We're dust. And that, as we say on Ash Wednesday, is a blessing.”


Twitter: @hscribner