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Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, 2024


A salver of ash

Ash Wednesday is a holy day of prayer and fasting in many Western Christian denominations. It is preceded by Shrove Tuesday and falls on the first day of Lent (the six weeks of penitence before Easter).


As it is the first day of Lent, many Christians begin Ash Wednesday by marking a Lenten calendar, praying a Lenten daily devotional, and making a Lenten sacrifice that they will not partake of until the arrival of Eastertide.


Many Christians attend special church services, where churchgoers receive ash on their foreheads. Ash Wednesday derives its name from this practice, accompanied by the words, "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" or the dictum "Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return." The ashes are prepared by burning palm leaves from last year's Palm Sunday celebrations.



A Prayer for Ash Wednesday


God of the dust we were before,

God of the dust we will become,

God of the breath

that has brought this dust to life:

each day contains a miracle

bounded by our mortality.  


In this season, we mark ourselves

as creatures dependent on you,

drawn up from a shared earth,

and separated from each other

only by a desire to be more than we are.

 

May we, who will return to the earth,

use these days to draw closer to you

and to all those who share

this earth, this breath,

this animating love

that can bring even ash to life.

Amen.



Lent


For many Christians, Lent is a time when they make space to pray, read the Bible and reflect on God’s love. Some Christians from more orthodox or traditional denominations fast during Lent. They begin with the wearing of ashes on Ash Wednesday and give up meat, fish, eggs and more for the 40-day period. Others give up comforts or luxuries such as chocolate, junk food, social media or television.


When the Lent period ends depends on how you count the 40 days, as eastern and western churches observe Lent slightly differently. In western churches, Sundays are excluded meaning Lent ends on Holy Saturday. Eastern churches include Lent Sundays, meaning it ends on Palm Sunday, the Friday before Easter. The last week of Lent is called Holy Week.

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