Ash Wednesday Service


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The service for Ash Wednesday offers congregations the opportunity to begin the journey of Lent together. While it has not always been celebrated in the Presbyterian Church, the service has become an increasingly common occasion for Presbyterians to mark the themes of penitence and repentance from sin that characterize the Lenten season as the church moves toward Holy Week and Easter. 

Ash Wednesday services include the outward symbol of our humanity and our need for repentance — ashes that are imposed on worshipers’ foreheads. Often the ashes are from the burning of palms from the prior Palm Sunday. 

While we often think of the penitence of Lent as a personal (private) and inward matter, a service of worship on Ash Wednesday gives churchgoers the opportunity to repent as a community, to pray together, to enact the ritual of the imposition of ashes in public, to make their commitment to a Lenten discipline together, and to realize that no one is alone on the journey. We wear the ashes of sin and repentance collectively as well as individually. 

This liturgy is for pastors who welcome liturgical aids or outlines, suggested prayers and themes for preaching or reflection. It is also for lay leaders who seek to meet a need in their community. 

While the liturgy offers spoken prayers, readings and responsive litanies that support the themes of repentance, brokenness and humanity, silence at any place in the service is appropriate and can be powerful. Usually, worshipers are invited to leave the church in silence at the end of the service after the benediction.

Written by Barbara Chaapel