(ACNS, Special Report) 5 February 2008
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at an Ash Wednesday Eucharist in the Sudan
Photo Credit: ACNS/Rosenthal
The season of Lent begins (February 6) and Anglicans and Christians of many traditions will gather for worship to mark the most solemn season of the church year, looking toward the Passion of Our Lord, Holy Week and culminating in Easter. Easter comes extraordinarily early this year, 23 March.
Many churches include in their liturgical observance the rite of imposition of ashes. The worshipper hears the words “Dust you are and to dust you shall return”. The theme of the day is penitential, including prayers of confession and reading of Psalm 51. Last year the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Times Square New York offered the ashing ceremony all day long and thousands of New Yorkers availed themselves of the tradition in the historic church.
The 2004 Church of Ireland Prayer Book includes the following exhortation on Ash Wednesday:
Brother and sisters in Christ: since early days Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord’s passion and resurrection. It became the custom of the Church to prepare for this by a season of penitence and fasting.
At first this season of Lent was observed by those who were preparing for Baptism at Easter and by those who were to be restored to the Church’s fellowship from which they had been separated through sin. In course of time the Church came to recognize that, by careful keeping of these days, all Christians might take heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaim din the gospel, and so grow in faith and in devotion to our Lord.
I invite you, therefore, to observe a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and my reading and meditating on God’s holy word.
The 1662 Book of Common Prayer Collect is one of the most beloved in the Anglican tradition, and in some places is said in Lent:
Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent, create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission
and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ. Amen.