Ash Wednesday at the Vatican

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and it is considered a day of fasting and reflection taking place on a different day each year on the seventh week before Easter Sunday.

In 2020, Ash Wednesday takes place on the 26th of February. In 2021, Ash Wednesday is on the 17th of February and 2022.

The holy day is a part of the lead up to Easter, so here is what to expect during Ash Wednesday at the Vatican.


Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday. Traditionally Christians fast for 40 days in total ending during Holy Week which is the week that ends on Easter Sunday. The fasting and sacrificing is in recognition of Jesus being crucified on the cross on Good Friday and to replicate Jesus’ sacrifice on his journey into the desert for fourth days and fourth nights contemplating his role as the son of God.

What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is the burning of the palms from the previous Palm Sunday leaves which are given out exactly a week before Easter Sunday. During mass or church service a priest, bishop or the Pope places the sign of the cross with the ashes on your forehead. It is a reminder to “remember you are dust and to dust you will return”. In regards to fasting, Catholics are expected to only have three meals that day with no snacking and are not allowed to eat meat, however, fish is ok.

What is Palm Sunday?

Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter Sunday. It is to celebrate Jesus’ triumphal walk entering into Jerusalem with the people waving Palm leaves in celebration believing him to be the son of God. Within a week he will be crucified on Good Friday for blasphemy.
What is Shrove Tuesday?

Shrove Tuesday is the last day before Lent. Traditionally today we call it Pancake Tuesday or Fat Tuesday. In French, it is known as Mardi Gras. The reason for consuming pancakes is things like butter, eggs and fat were considered a luxury and were typically things that would be given up for Lent.

The Pope’s Schedule on Ash Wednesday

Pope Francis will be giving his usual Papal Audience speech from around 10 a.m. to around 11 a.m. in which the general public can attend for free as long as they have booked tickets.

At 4:30 pm the Pope will attend the Church of Saint Anselmo on the Aventine hill before making his way to Santa Sabina where he will give the official Holy mass blessing and imposition of the Ashes in which again the general public can attend for free by ordering tickets or they can be at the church early enough to see the Pope from outside.

Basilica of Santa Sabina

The Basilica of Santa Sabina is a church on the Aventine Hill dating from the fourth century A.D. It is right next to the major tourist landmarks, the Orange garden and the famous Keyhole. The church is probably most famous for the Pope traditionally giving the Holy blessing on Ash Wednesday yet the reason why this blessing partakes in Santa Sabina is unclear. Some say it is due to the tough walk it takes to climb up the Aventine Hill symbolizing the sacrifice Christ made and the sacrifice Christians make during the period of Lent.

It is important to know that Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation/public holiday so the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica are open as if it is any normal Wednesday.