Thursday, 20 February 2014

What is Lent and Ash Wednesday?

The church will shortly be entering what we call ‘Lent’, a time for repentance, for cleansing, for renewal, a time for spiritual growth. Many churches offer a service on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent where ashes are used to mark each person’s forehead with the sign of the cross – known as the Imposition of Ashes. It’s a strange feeling; first the grittiness when they are first placed, then a tingling sensation, then a time of self-consciousness of knowing they are there like a dirty smudge. Lastly comes the decision – should I wipe them away before leaving the church or later?
But what is the point of it all? There are many references in the Bible to people using ashes as signs of either penitence or preparation for an important event (Jeremiah 6:26). In church records, ashes are used for penitents by the sixth century, but it is not until the beginning of the eleventh century that the faithful took part in a ceremony on the Wednesday before Lent that included the imposition of ashes. It is only later that this came to be called Ash Wednesday.

At first clerics and men had ashes sprinkled on their heads while women had the sign of the cross made with ashes on their foreheads.

In the twelfth century the rule developed that the ashes were to be created by burning palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday – and in most churches this is still how they are made today.
Traditionally there are 40 days of Lent but you may have noticed that there are more than 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday! This is because the calculation of the forty days of Lent has varied considerably in Christian history. It is now usual in the West to count them continuously to the end of Holy Week (excluding Sundays) so beginning Lent on the sixth Wednesday before Easter.

During Lent you will find our churches are less colourful - kept bare of flowers and decoration in stark contrast to their transformation on Easter Sunday when our churches are resplendent with flowers and colour in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

This year Lent begins on Wednesday 5th March and there are Ash Wednesday services being held in all our four churches that day as follows:
10.00 am at St James, South Wraxall
10.30 am at Christ Church, Bradford on Avon
11.00 am at St Peters, Monkton Farleigh
20.00 pm at St Nicholas, Winsley

Do come and join us. It’s an opportunity for all of us to reflect on our spiritual health and wellbeing. You will be made very welcome.
With love and prayers, Ann

Revd Ann Keating

Rector of North Bradford on Avon and Villages