Today marks the start of Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and penitence before Easter.

Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans are among the religious groups that celebrate the day by having their foreheads marked with ashes  -- in the shape of the cross -- which are made from last year’s Palm Sunday palms. Easter this year falls on April 8.

Here’s an interesting story from the Religion News Service about a new take on the Ash Wednesday practice of marking foreheads with ashes. It's called "Ashes to Go":

“Five years ago, the Rev. Teresa K.M. Danieley had an epiphany of sorts. If people can grab breakfast on the go or pay a bill from their cell phone, she thought, why shouldn’t they be able to get their ashes in a flash?

“The Rev. Kara Wagner Sherer of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Chicago imposes ashes on a passerby in 2011 as part of a growing “Ashes to Go” program in the Episcopal Church. RNS photo courtesy Canticle Communications.”

“That’s why, on Ash Wednesday 2007, Danieley planted herself in full priestly regalia at a busy intersection in St. Louis, smudging the sign of the cross on the foreheads of bicyclists, drivers and bus passengers.”

“This year, at least 49 Episcopal parishes across 12 states will offer ashes to passersby at train stations, bus stops and college campuses on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 22) as Danieley’s “Ashes to Go” concept spreads nationwide.”