Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
We began our observation of Jesus’ death and resurrection by preparing for Easter with a season of penitence. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent.
The liturgy provides words about the purpose of Lent. “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
There is the “Invitation to the Observance of a Holy Lent”. It states that Lent’s purpose over the 40 days is for preparing new members through Holy Baptism and to restore those “had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church.” In a sense it is for the restoration of the Body of Christ, uniting with the new and those who had fallen away.
The imposition of ashes follows the invitation. At this service, people receive ashes on our foreheads in the shape of a cross to remind us of our mortality, and complete dependence on God for our lives. Only through God’s saving grace can be we be in a relationship with God.
In the Bible, a mark on the forehead is a symbol of a person’s ownership. By having their foreheads marked with the sign of a cross, this symbolizes that the person belongs to Jesus Christ, who died on a Cross.
Finally there is the saying of Psalm 51 and the Litany of Penance. Pslam 51 is a general plea for purging, new creation and restoration – “Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.” “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. ” “Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit”
The Litany is more specific and catalogs our sins:
- “Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,”
- “Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves”
- “Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts”
- “Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,”
Finally a request to accept our repentence:
“Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty”
“Therefore we beseech him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do on this day, and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy, so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”