The celebration of Ash Wednesday signals the start of our 40 day journey towards the mountain of Paschal Triduum. Holy Mother Church invites her children to enter the door of sacrifice and penance through prayer, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving as a preparation for the days of making-present again the love of our Lord Jesus Christ which he has shown through his passion, death, and resurrection. Starting this day, the Gloria (unless it is a solemnity or feast) and the Alleluia will not be sung/said. Musical instruments will be silent (yet are allowed only to support the singing) and songs convey a more somber atmosphere.
Ash Wednesday is unknown in the Eastern Church, and developed only in the West. Ash Wednesday, as an official day of fast, dates back to at least the 8th century, since it appears in the Gregorian Sacramentary of that period. Originally, Ash Wednesday was the day when public penitents in Rome began their penance. Recall that in the early Church, penance was often public and protracted. It was only later that private confession and penance began, for pastoral reasons. When public penance gradually fell into disuse by the 8th century, Ash Wednesday became a day of penitence and fasting for all members of the Church. Today, Ash Wednesday is a universal Fast day in the Catholic Church.
"On the Wednesday before the First Sunday of Lent, the faithful receive the ashes, thus entering into the time established for the purification of their souls. This sign of penance, a traditionally biblical one, has been preserved among the Church's customs until the present day. It signifies the human condition of the sinner, who seeks to express his guilt before the Lord in an exterior manner, and by so doing express his interior conversion, led on by the confident hope that the Lord will be merciful. This same sign marks the beginning of the way of conversion, which is developed through the celebration of the sacrament of Penance during the days before Easter."
The Mass starts with the sign of the cross and the priest may give an introduction to invite the faithful to enter the season with contrite heart. The Penitential Rite is omitted, because the imposition of the ashes will be its substitute. After the homily, the Rite of Imposition of Ashes follows. The blessing and imposition of ashes should take place either in the Mass or outside of the Mass. In the latter case it is to be part of a Liturgy of the Word and conclude with the prayer of the faithful.
The question we need to deal with is on the requirement and manner of reception:
As what we have said before, the Season of Lent is a time of fasting and abstinence as a way of sacrifice. The law states clearly that the age for abstinence starts at 14 and fasting and abstinence are for those who are 18 years above. One reason why with this age is because of the full reception of a person in to Christian life - already completed and received the Sacraments of Initiation.
Who can receive ashes? Christians, baptized, confirmed, and partakers of the Body of Christ. But according to some, baptism is enough. Yes, it is true. But there must be a remedy for ignorance so that children, especially in toddler years, could receive ashes not because it is a “fashion-statement of the day” or simply for mere compliance. Catechesis is needed to let children, of catechetical age and parents may understand the significance of ashes in Christian life and spirituality of the season. A continuous Mystagogical Catechesis will surely be of help for such age, and even the elderly, to understand more the celebrations and spirit of the Lenten Season. Babies, who are baptized, may be exempted to avoid allergic reaction from the ashes.
The rubrics of the Sacramentary only say that the priest, after blessing the ashes, imposes it to the faithful. In some commentaries it is stated that the ashes are imposed in the forehead, putting some water in the ashes to make paste so that it could stay longer in one’s forehead.
In the Tridentine Missal, the rubrics gave its manner of imposition: First, for the priests and clerics, the ashes are given by putting it in their head (crown). The faithful follows and has an option to put also in the head or in their forehead (especially for those who are in tropical countries). Observing what is being practiced in some countries especially in Rome, both the priest and the faithful receive ashes in their head either by sprinkling it or forming a cross in their head. In the Philippines, according to some, practice it by receiving it in their forehead (because it is part of the head, according to medical experts).
In my own opinion, following faithfully the Gospel, I think it will be nice to see, for those who would like to deepen their observance and make more meaning the celebration of Lent, to receive the ashes in their head (crown) without any distinction between priest and faithful. For in baptism, after we were reborn with the Water of Life, the priest anoints us with Chrism to show the dignity of our Christian life. As we grow older, that dignity is being stained by sin. I believe that the ashes, which have a rich penitential character, will be much more meaningful if it is imposed at the part of the head where we were anointed with the Chrism during Baptism: THE CROWN. The ashes will clean out the stain of sin and aid us in restoring our baptismal dignity. This also implies the words of the Lord that those who sacrifice in secret will be rewarded by our Father in heaven.
Furthermore, the faithful are to be encouraged to participate in an ever more intense and fruitful way in the Lenten liturgy and in penitential celebrations. It is through our active participation in the liturgy and other Lenten practices we can attain the graces which this season will confer to us especially the new life that Christ will bring in his resurrection.
 Cf. Paschales Solemnitatis, 6
 Ibid, 21.
 Rubrics, Ash Wednesday. Saint Joseph Daily Missal.
 Matthew 6: 16-21.
 PS, 15.