Ash Wednesday

Today at the Cathedral View More
8:00am Holy Communion
10:15am Choral Mattins
11:30am Sung Eucharist
3:15pm Choral Evensong
4:45pm Vierne 150 Festival Alonzo Quartet
6:00pm Eucharist

Ash Wednesday

The six weeks before Easter are known in the Church as Lent. During this time Christians prepare themselves for Easter day, when they will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Lent has been observed by Christians for hundreds of years – one of the earliest references to it can be found in the 2nd century AD – and often took the form of fasting.  

The most obvious reason for fasting during lent is to remember Jesus’ time in the wilderness. Early on in the life of Jesus, Jesus was spent forty days in the wilderness preparing for his ministry and during this time he ate nothing. Lent mimics this time with forty days of fasting (plus six Sundays on which the fasting is suspended). Fasting was also, historically, seen as a discipline intended to focus people’s attention on God.  

Today many Christians continue to use Lent as a time to prepare for Easter. Some people will give up things, like chocolate or alcohol. They might try to avoid using plastics or, as Pope Gregory suggested in the 6th century, will adopt a vegan diet. Other Christians will take things up.  They might read a book or decide to do something generous every day. The options are limitless but the purpose of them is to provide space and time, out of our usual hectic lives, to reflect and pray. The name Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for spring and some people see it as a time for spiritual spring cleaning so that we can be truly ready to celebrate Easter.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, and therefore is important because it begins the whole season. It also has a particular significance of its own. On Ash Wednesday, ashes are ceremonially placed on the head of Christians in the form of a cross and are accompanied by the words: “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”. These are the words that God said to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after they sinned for the first time. They are intended to remind us that as human beings we get things wrong, time and time again, and that it is important, while we can, to repent and commit to living differently. The Latin phrase ‘memento mori’ (which means ‘remember your death’) has often been used on Ash Wednesday. This is not intended to be depressing but is, instead, an annual stocktake and invites us to reflect on our lives and to ask what needs doing before it is too late.