On the evening of Ash Wednesday, 98 members from the Anglican and Lutheran churches in Peterborough gathered with their clergy to mark the beginning of Lent. The Liturgy included the Imposition of Ashes, for those who so chose, and the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The clergy joined in a con-celebration of the Eucharist with St Luke’s parish priest presiding.

A few people also attended the Ash Wednesday Liturgy who were away from home due to work in Peterborough.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and begins the journey through Lent to Holy Week and on to the Celebration of Easter, the most hallowed of Feasts in the Christian Church since it celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. During Lent many of the faithful either give up certain practices as a sign of fasting or penance. Others take on new activities especially in the service of those in need or by supporting such efforts through special almsgiving.

There are 40 days in Lent because the Sundays of Lent are not counted since every Sunday is a feast day as a Sunday of the Resurrection.

*   *   *

Learn more about Ash Wednesday

The service draws on the ancient Biblical traditions of covering one’s head with ashes, wearing sackcloth, and fasting.

The mark of ashes

In Ash Wednesday services churchgoers are marked on the forehead with a cross of ashes as a sign of penitence and mortality. The use of ashes, made by burning palm crosses from the previous Palm Sunday, is very symbolic.

The minister or priest marks each worshipper on the forehead, and says remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return, or a similar phrase based on God’s sentence on Adam in Genesis 3:19.

The modern practice in Anglican churches nowadays is for the priest to dip his right thumb in the ashes and, making the Sign of the Cross on each person’s forehead, say: Remember, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return (or a variation on those words).

Symbolism of the ashes

The marking of their forehead with a cross made of ashes reminds each churchgoer that:

  • Death comes to everyone
  • They should be sad for their sins
  • They must change themselves for the better
  • God made the first human being by breathing life into dust, and without God, human beings are nothing more than dust and ashes

The shape of the mark and the words used are symbolic in other ways:

  • The cross is a reminder of the mark of the cross made at baptism
  • The phrase often used when the ashes are administered reminds Christians of the doctrine of original sin
  • The cross of ashes may symbolise the way Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as atonement for sin replaces the Old Testament tradition of making burnt offerings to atone for sin

Where the ashes come from

The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are made by burning the palm crosses that were blessed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday.

Source: BBC Religion

Leave a Comment