Thursday, 14 February 2013
Ash Wednesday 13th February
Today marks the beginning of Lent, the season when Christians should start to prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. Not sure how I’m going to square this in with the several Dinners coming up in coming weeks.
As a lay minister I suppose should explain that Ash Wednesday emphasises two themes: our sinfulness before God and our human mortality – dust to dust, ashes to ashes. I attended the “Imposition of Ashes” service at St Bride’s, Fleet Street, the mother church of the Marketors’ Company. This was a Choral Eucharist and provided a further occasion to once again appreciate the fine professional choir of St Bride’s including the singing of Allegri’s beautiful Miserere with its famous “high C”.
As part of this service, our Honorary Chaplain and Rector of St Bride’s David Meara lightly rubbed the sign of the cross with ashes onto the foreheads of those many present at the altar rail. The use of ashes as a sign of mortality and repentance has a long history in Christian worship. Historically, ashes signified purification and sorrow for sins. It is the custom in many churches to save the palm branches from the Palm Sunday service of the previous year to burn to produce ashes for this service.
The traditional period of fasting in Lent in the run up to Easter is of course 40 days and 40 nights – the period Jesus spent in the wilderness. Ash Wednesday however comes 46 days before Easter. This is because the six Sundays in Lent are feast days, a weekly “welcome break” from the fast. So whatever you have given up for Lent – you can indulge in on Sundays. I only mention this little known fact wearing a marketing “hat”. With an early Easter, Valentine’s Day, advertised and promoted as a big day for the sale of chocolates, unusually falls within Lent this year! Save them for Sunday?