On Ash Wednesday
I didn’t grow up in a tradition that observed Lent, so “Ash Wednesday” was just an ignored calendar inscription along with “Administrative Professionals Day.” Within the past decade or so, my awareness of Lent has grown — mostly from few Catholic friends who would occasionally talk about Fish Fridays or Lenten goals, from being hired to play for Lenten services, and from some personal reading done out of curiosity.
Much like Advent, Lent has recently seen revival among more mainstream Protestant denominations. I do believe that how each person decides (or doesn’t decide) to observe Lent is a matter of individual freedom. Certainly, the ideas associated with Lent — sorrow and repentance over sin, spiritual discipline — should be mainstays of a Christian’s life throughout the year. However, the start of the season is a good reminder that I need to reserve time to prepare my mind and heart for Easter — the true highlight of the Christian calendar.
Psalm 51 is a popular text for Ash Wednesday, as it focuses on our sinfulness and need for mercy and forgiveness. One of the most famous settings is Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere:
English Translation (based on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer):
Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness
According to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offences.
Wash me throughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me.
Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified in Thy saying, and clear when Thou art judged.
Behold, I was shapen in wickedness: and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.
Turn Thy face from my sins: and put out all my misdeeds.
Make me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence: and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
O give me the comfort of Thy help again: and stablish me with Thy free Spirit.
Then shall I teach Thy ways unto the wicked: and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou that art the God of my health: and my tongue shall sing of Thy righteousness.
Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall shew Thy praise.
For Thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it Thee: but Thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise.
O be favourable and gracious unto Sion: build Thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations: then shall they offer young calves upon Thine altar.
Here are a few resources and reflections on Ash Wednesday and Lent:
- What every Christian should know about Ash Wednesday
- What is Ash Wednesday?
- Lenten Preparation for Good Friday and Easter
- On Ash Wednesday at The Rabbit Room
- Praying the Litany for Lent
- 40 Days on The Search