On Ash Wednesday there will be two Celebrations of the Holy Eucharist (Mass) and Imposition of Ashes at the Parish Church of St John the Baptist
10.00am Holy Eucharist and Imposition
7.30om Holy Eucharist and Imposition (Lady Chapel)
Since the time of the early Church, Christians have observed with great devotion and humility the events surrounding the Passion of our Lord which culminated in His glorious resurrection and ascension. It became of the custom of the Church to prepare itself by a period of penitence and fasting.
At first, Lent was observed by those who were preparing for Baptism at Easter, and by those who wished to be restored to the fellowship of Holy Mother Church from which they had been separated by sin (the penitents)
In England beginning in Saxon Times the period immediately preceding Lent was known as Shrovetide and it was customary to make confession and be ‘shriven’ before Lent began and on Shrove Tuesday, all fats and cream had to be consumed so that none remained during the fasting period of Lent.
The Church recognized that by a careful keeping of these days of Lent, all Christians have the opportunity to call to mind their sins and seek the forgiveness of God that is promised in the Gospel, thereby growing in faith and devotion to Jesus Christ our Lord and Redeemer.
I invite you, in the name of the Church, to observe a Holy Lent, by self examination and repentance, by prayer, fasting and self denial, by reading and meditating of God’s Holy Word and by looking at ways in which all who profess the faith of Christ Crucified may make this world a better place in the name of Him who created it and us.
Ash Wednesday is therefore a day of penitence to cleanse the soul as we enter Lent. In the Parish we have had for many years two special Eucharists incorporating ‘Ashing’ or the reception of ash in the sign of the cross on our foreheads as a symbol of being sorry for our sins. Priests in many Parishes (including ours) use the ashes from palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. The ashes are mixed with holy water and oil to remind us of Baptism and God’s Blessings. Each time either I or Canon Boyd anoint the forehead we use the old formula ‘Remember, thou art but dust and unto dust shall thou return. Turn away from sin and turn to Christ.’
Some of us leave the mark of the cross on our foreheads after we leave church following the Diaconal Dismissal. This is so that we can carry the sign of the cross into the world. Some choose to wash the ashes as a sign that they are now spiritually clean and their sins have been wiped away. Whichever is preferred the reception of Ashes is a sign of both inner repentance and Christian Witness.
Originally called dies cinerum (day of ashes) Ash Wednesday is mentioned in the earliest copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary, and probably dates from at least the 8th Century. One of the earliest descriptions of Ash Wednesday is found in the writings of the Anglo-Saxon abbot Aelfric (955-1020). In his Lives of the Saints, he writes, “We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.” Aelfric then tells the story of a man who refused to go to church for ‘ashing’ and was accidentally killed some days later in a boar hunt! This quotation confirms what we know from other sources, that throughout the Middle-Ages ashes were sprinkled on the head, rather than anointed on the forehead as we do today.
Aelfric rightly tells us that the pouring of ashes on one’s body (and dressing in sackcloth, a very rough material) as an outer manifestation of inner repentance or mourning is indeed an ancient practice. It is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. The earliest mention is found at the very end of the book of Job. Job, having been rebuked by God, confesses, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Other examples are found in 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1,3, Isaiah 61:3, Jeremiah 6:26, Ezekiel 27:30, and Daniel 9:3. In the New Testament, Jesus alludes to the practice in Matthew 11:21: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”
I invite you to attend one of the two Eucharists
I invite you to receive on your head in Ashes, the sign of the Cross of Christ, the symbol of Salvation
Priest: Remember, thou art but dust and to dust shall thou return. Turn away from sin and turn to Christ.