February 9 Ash Wednesday

4th February 2005 at 00:00
This first day of Lent is when Christians traditionally repent of their wrong-doing

Outline script for assembly leaders

One of you has been really cruel. Someone else has said something untrue and hurtful. Another of you has been caught bullying someone younger. They will be punished and part of that punishment may be to apologise to the person who has been wronged. But how do we know if they are truly sorry?

In biblical times, when people wanted to show they were genuinely sorry for their wrong-doing, they wore sackcloth and covered themselves in ashes.

Even today, some Christians remember this custom by receiving a smudge of ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday.

In churches where this happens, the priest mixes ashes with holy water or oil to make a greyish paste. Then, during a service on Ash Wednesday, each person comes forward in turn. The priest dips a thumb in the paste and makes the sign of the cross on each person's forehead, saying either the traditional words: "Remember, you are dust and unto dust you shall return" or, in modern English: "Turn away from sin and believe in the gospel."

At the end of the service, some worshippers leave the church with the mark still in place to show they are carrying the cross into the world. Others remove it because they believe that (by the end of the service) God has forgiven their sins.

The custom dates from the 8th-century. An Anglo-Saxon teacher, .lfred, wrote: "Let us do this at the beginning of our Lent. We strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast." During this period of 40 days (ending at Easter), some Christians try to fast in some way, perhaps by not eating meat or drinking alcohol or simply by giving up chocolate and sweets and giving the money saved to charity.

Follow-up

Discuss when it is hard to say sorry, especially in public. How else can we show our regret?

Create a tableau or procession of penitents, using grey poster paint as a substitute for ashes.

Copp Church of England School, Great Eccleston, Lancashire, has a website with pages about Lent: www.coppschool.lancsngfl.ac.ukblackbar.htm?ClassworkClassworkcalendarle nt.htm

David Self

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