By Kelly Givens, Crosswalk.com
Ash Wednesday is a penitent service that uses ash to mark the sign of the cross on the believer’s forehead, symbolizing our sinful nature and need for salvation. The Catholic church usually uses the ashes of Palm Sunday branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service. Ash Wednesday is always 46 days before Easter Sunday and marks the beginning of the Lenten season. Lent is traditionally a 40-day fast — a reference to the time Jesus spent being tempted in the desert — that seeks to prepare the heart of the believer for the solemn remembrance of Jesus’ death. It concludes and is followed by a joyous Easter Sunday celebration of the resurrection of Christ.
A Prayer for Ash Wednesday:
Lord, Holy One, have mercy on us. We confess our sins to you. We have fallen short of your glory and without your mercy and grace, we would be dust. We repent now. Lord, as we enter into this Lenten season, be near to us. Help us, by your Holy Spirit, to feel right conviction and repentance for our sin. Help us, by your Spirit, to have the strength to overcome the enemy.
Thank you, Lord, that Easter is coming! Death has no sting, no victory, because of Jesus! Glory and honor and praise to His name! Thank you for rescuing us. Help us keep both the weight and the joy of this season in our hearts and we move through the next several weeks. Help us bear the good fruit of your Spirit.
Thank you that the ashes on our forehead do not symbolize our ultimate reality. From dust we might have been formed, but our bodies, our spirits, ourselves, await beautiful redemption and the restoration of all things. Help us long and look forward to that day, and let it come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen. - Excerpted from What Is Ash Wednesday? by Kelly Givens
Psalm 51 - A Prayer Traditionally Recited During Ash Wednesday Services
1. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
2. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
4. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
5. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
10. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
14. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
18. May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19. Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Does the Bible Mention Ash Wednesday?
While the Bible does not mention the celebration of Ash Wednesday or command its practice, the Bible does mention ashes and dust in several places. The use of ashes in the Old Testament onward symbolized mourning, repentance, and the frailty of humanity.
“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” — Genesis 3:19
“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.” — Esther 4:1
“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” — Job 42:5-6
“All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” — Ecclesiastes 3:20
“So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.” — Daniel 9:3
“The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.” — Jonah 3:5-6
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” — Matthew 11:21
Ash Wednesday was celebrated by the early church and continues to be celebrated today by believers of different denominations. It is not commanded in Scripture nor is it bad if your church does or doesn't host a service. The ashes are symbolic of a penitent nature, but they do not affect your salvation or sanctification in any way. Salvation belongs to the Lord alone. It is by grace through faith that we are saved, which is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Further Reading: 7 Things You Should Know about Ash Wednesday
This article is part of our Prayers resource meant to inspire and encourage your prayer life when you face uncertain times. Visit our most popular prayers if you are wondering how to pray or what to pray. Remember, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and God knows your heart even if you can't find the words to pray.
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