Ash Wednesday: The Mark of the Lenten Season

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Updated: March 1, 2017

Christians around the world are observing today as Ash Wednesday which signifies the start of the Lenten season.  Traditionally, the Church would have services to distribute the ashes to those in attendance throughout the course of the day.  The Lenten season lasts for forty days and forty nights excluding Sundays, reflecting the time Jesus was said to be in the wilderness.  To get a deeper insight into this annual tradition that dates back for centuries, we spoke with the Anglican Bishop, Philip Wright.

BISHOP PHILIP WRIGHT

“I think the start of the observance of lent the way we know it which starts on Ash Wednesday dates back to maybe the middle 4th century and it has always been a season which the church has called on its faithful to get involved in acts of penitence, seeking the forgiveness of their sins, the amendment of their lives but also to be engaged in exercises that can help to improve and nourish your spiritual life so prayer and fasting and church attendance and meditation books and so on have always been a part of what the church has recommended for the observance of Holy Lent. When we put the ashes on the forehead of individuals we normally use the word remember your dust and to dust you shall return and I think its a kind of sober reminder of the fact that despite all that you see today that makes us beautiful and all the rest at the end of the day not to sound to morbid but when we die we go back to pretty much ashes and so in a sense what the church is saying is that by putting this on your forehead by reminding you this is who we really are then we are called to make the life we live more meaningful and the season of lent then becomes an opportunity for you to reflect on that life and to see how you can make it more meaningful and purposeful as well. We do get some significant numbers on a day like today where people want to come and get those ashes. I’m sure some of it is just for the ritual and for the habit but we always hope that among them ther are those who seriously want to take the season seriously and make something of it.”

Bishop Wright also spoke of the importance of fasting and that it should not be regarded as just a seasonal ritual.

BISHOP PHILIP WRIGHT

“It’s a good question actually because I think if you don’t put a purpose to it it can just be a ritualistic act and so you fast, you give up chocolate or cake but to what end? So that you could just pick it back up come Easter? What I would recommend is that if you will give up something perhaps it should be something that you have determined that is interfering with your relationship with God and maybe with other people and so you want to somehow remove yourself from it to see if you can work on that relationship. I’ve been saying to people don’t just give up take on something positive like bible reading or being generous or giving to the poor. Something that maybe even after Lent you can continue to do it doesn’t have to be something that is done only during Lent so whether you are giving up something or taking on something the aim should be ‘I think this will improve my relationship with God and with others and therefore it is worth doing.”

As part of his message for this Lenten season, Bishop Wright says he has spoken to his congregation appealing to them to be serious about evangelism.

BISHOP PHILIP WRIGHT

“My personal message for instance in the diocese we have called on our faithful to take more seriously the business of evangelism that we really ought to do more to try an spread the good news , what I have said to our members is use the Lenten season to prepare yourself to be more effective at sharing the good news and I think one of the ways one can become more effective is to kind of reach out and have a more personal encounter with God because it is out of that that you gain your confidence to go and tell somebody else that this thing is a good thing. So I’m hoping the faithful at least in the Anglican Church will use the season to work on their own relationship with God and with others and thereby use that to strengthen their confidence in sharing the good news with other people.”

In the Bishop’s message for Lent 2017, he noted, quote, “Society needs a season like Lent whether this is acknowledged or not.  He added that the overall objective is to improve the quality of relationship we have with our Lord and God whilst at the same time, taking seriously the relationships we have with each other.”  End of quote.