Ash Wednesday is a Christian holy day of prayer and fasting. It is preceded by Shrove Tuesday and falls on the first day of Lent, the six weeks of penitence before Easter . Ash Wednesday is traditionally observed by Western Christians. It is observed by Catholics in the Roman Rite, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Moravians, Nazarenes, and Independent Catholics, as well as by many from the Reformed faith (inclusive of the Congregationalist, Continental Reformed, and Presbyterian traditions).As it is the first day of Lent, many Christians begin Ash Wednesday by marking a Lenten calendar, praying a Lenten daily devotional, and making a Lenten sacrifice that they will not partake of until the arrival of Eastertide.
Ash Wednesday derives its name from the placing of repentance ashes on the foreheads of participants to either the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or the dictum “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are prepared by burning palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations.
In the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting, abstinencefrom meat(which begins at age 14 according to canon law 1252), and repentance. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Roman Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 (whose health enables them to do so) are permitted to consume one full meal, along with two smaller meals, which together should not equal the full meal. Some Catholics will go beyond the minimum obligations put forth by the Church and undertake a complete fast or a bread and water fast until sunset. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also days of abstinence from meat (mammals and fowl), as are all Fridays during Lent. Some Roman Catholics continue fasting throughout Lent, as was the Church’s traditional requirement,concluding only after the celebration of the Easter Vigil. Where the Ambrosian Rite is observed, the day of fasting and abstinence is postponed to the first Friday in the Ambrosian Lent, nine days later.
The History of Lent and Ash Wednesday
The history and beginnings of Lent aren’t clear. According to Britannica.com, Lent has likely been observed: “since apostolic times, though the practice was not formalized until the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.” Christian scholars note that Lent became more regularized after the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313. St. Irenaeus, Pope St. Victor I, and St. Athanasius all seem to have written about Lent during their ministries. Most agree that “by the end of the fourth century, the 40-day period of Easter preparation known as Lent existed, and that prayer and fasting constituted its primary spiritual exercises.”
Verses to Reflect on for Ash Wednesday:
If you’d like to start thinking through and observing Lent and Ash Wednesday, here are a few verses specific to Ash Wednesday to meditate and reflect on, and then a prayer you can pray to observe the day.
1.Our Creation:Genesis 2:7 – Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
2.Our Curse:Genesis 3:19 – By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
3.Our Cry of Repentance:Psalm 51:7- 10: Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me
A Prayer for Ash Wednesday:
Lord, Holy One, have mercy on us. We confess our sins to you. We have fallen short of your glory and without your mercy and grace, we would be dust. We repent now. Lord, as we enter into this Lenten season, be near to us. Help us, by your Holy Spirit, to feel the right conviction and repentance for our sin. Help us, by your Spirit, to have the strength to overcome the enemy.null
Thank you, Lord, that Easter is coming! Death has no sting, no victory, because of Jesus! Glory and honor and praise to His name! Thank you for rescuing us. Help us keep both the weight and the joy of this season in our hearts and we move through the next several weeks. Help us bear the good fruit of your Spirit.
Thank you that the ashes on our forehead do not symbolize our ultimate reality. From dust, we might have been formed, but our bodies, our spirits, ourselves, await beautiful redemption and the restoration of all things. Help us long and look forward to that day, and let it come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.