Ash Wednesday Services and the Meaning of Lent

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season of fasting, self-reflection, and atonement that lasts for forty days and ends on Easter Sunday. This year Ash Wednesday falls on February 22nd. We will hold two services on that day:

12:15 PM – Holy Eucharist and the Imposition of Ashes. No music.

7:00 PM. – Holy Eucharist and the Imposition of Ashes, with music.

Both services will take place in the Sanctuary.

Lent and Lenten Practices

Malcolm Guite writes that “Lent is a time set aside to reorient ourselves, to clarify our minds, to slow down, recover from distraction, to focus on the values of God’s kingdom and on the value God has set on us and on our neighbors.” It is a time of preparation, of taking stock of our lives and discovering how we have become overly compulsive, doing things we don’t really want to do out of habit or because they once provided us with comfort and joy and we can’t accept that they don’t give us these gifts anymore. Our compulsions usually lead us to treat our neighbors instrumentally, as if their purpose is to somehow make our lives easier, as if we can ignore the fact that they’re full human beings. Our compulsions lead us to treat our possessions and the hours we have to live thoughtlessly, as if each moment isn’t precious, and each object isn’t the result of costly human labor. Freeing ourselves of our compulsions, if only for a season, can be very hard. But once we are free of them, before they come sneaking back into our lives, we have a chance to experience the openness and grace of the Kingdom of God.

As you are preparing for Lent, take careful stock of your life — the things you feel that you have to purchase or possess, the ways that you squander your time. What aspects of your day to day existence aren’t really serving your life with God? These are the things that you might release during Lent. What can you take on in their place? If you stop playing video games or watching TV, what books could you read? What prayer practice could you adopt to fill the time? If you fast throughout the day, or on a certain day every week, what should you do with your newfound body-awareness? Exercise more? Take up yoga or some other meditative body practice? If you decide to limit your purchases, what could you do with your extra money? Who should you give it to? Who needs it most? As you prepare, the following questions might help you to decide on a Lenten Discipline:

  • What am I currently doing that I don’t want to do, or could use a break from?
  • Who would I like to spend more time with?
  • What hobby or interest do I wish I had more time for?
  • What is my prayer practice really like? Is there some form of prayer that I would like to explore, deepen, or return to?
  • What do I need to give up to create a greater sense of spaciousness in my life?

Once you have answered these questions for yourself, and decided on a Lenten discipline and a prayer practice, tell someone else about it. A trusted friend, a clergy person, a spiritual director. It is sometimes helpful to find a partner who wants to experiment with the same practices that you do. If you decide to fast from sun-up to sundown, you might find a friend who will join you in that fast, someone you can check in with over the course of the day. If you decide to try Centering Prayer, or daily Lectio Divina, or to use the Ignatian Examinem every evening, it might be helpful to find a group of others who are doing the same. But if you want to choose your practice and pursue it on your own, it can be good to have someone who will check in with you, and ask you how it’s going.

Have a holy and blessed Lent.


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