Ash Wednesday and I were not fast friends. At the start of my ministry,the idea of reminding people they were sinners and marking them with death seemed morbid and contrary to my sense of a loving God. “Why are we grinding people into the ground with these ashes?” I wondered. Ash Wednesday has, however, remained an important part of Catholic culture and, as much freedom as I was given at Sts. Clare & Francis, I wasn’t able to take it off the calendar.
In time, I matured and had my own experiences with life and death. I’ve come to see that people don’t typically come to the Ash Wednesday liturgy because they believe they’re horrible sinners and that Jesus needed to die for them. They come to be marked; being marked with ashes speaks to them in a way that can’t be formulated into a theology or expressed in words. It’s the perfect sacramental act: it makes visible something that is deep, paradoxical, and invisible to our everyday eyes – death and life meeting in a single moment, our mortal and everlasting nature touch. Now I like it; but my prayers reflect this paradoxical and poetic meaning that, hopefully, escapes the grasp of any one theology.
Lent is an intense time. It begins with a stark action that continues to speak to people: the marking with ashes. Ashes, in the time of year when things are yet bleak, are an image of what is common to all living: the end of everything, the beginning of everything. On this Wednesday, while life bustles on, Christians are marked with ashes by ministers who are themselves marked with ashes. The ashes call into question all that bustling life, all ourselves. There is something here that speaks of working through pretenses and getting to the real, of facades that crumble, of what our lives are like through these forty days.
Gabe Huck and Gerald T. Chinchar, Liturgy with Style and Grace (Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Press, 1998) 98.
…by the way, you’ll see a lot from these guys season to season. Their little book packs such a punch for educating people about liturgy.
Prayers for Ash Wednesday
A voice breaks out over the barren landscape, “Return to me with your whole heart.” But the path is littered with ashes and echoing silence. We cry out, “Lord have mercy!”
Response: Lord have Mercy .
A crowd gathers: elders, children, infants at the breast. With one voice we pray, “Christ have mercy.”
Response: Christ have Mercy (sung or spoken)
We cannot escape the ashes, they soil our hands. What can we do? A blessing bestowed one to the other, a mark for the journey ahead. Lord have mercy.
Response: Lord have Mercy (sung or spoken)
You who are the mystery of flesh and ash,
who call to us in our confusion and longing,
You remind us we are not alone.
In Christ’s Body you offer us what we need today
a beginning, a blessing, and hope in spite of a world that appears dead.
May the actions of our hands done for others,
the prayers of our hearts uttered in the quiet,
the nurturing of our bodies for the sake of our souls
strip away the layers of dirt that have covered and protected us for so long.
Lead us on the vulnerable path of Christ
to the font that makes us new again and again.
We ask this through Christ, our brother, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and forever.
A Blessing of the Ashes
Please extend your hand in blessing…
We call on the One who breathes life into dirt and mud.
that we might sweep into the street or throw in the trash
we ask Your Spirit to transform into grace
for us to die and to live.
In marking one another with a sign of our mortality
may we be united in the journey that has no end
the journey that begins and ends in You.
We pray through our help and example, Christ Jesus.
Since this is my first post that includes prayers, you may want to read a bit about my liturgical style.
Please, use or modify these prayers! That’s why they’re here. If you use them in corporate worship settings, though, please give a girl credit and include the address of this blog (storiesandseason.wordpress.com) in your program, bulletin or liturgical text.