Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Ash Wednesday

Today, Ash Wednesday, the great season of Lent begins. It is a time of year that calls us to repentance, and its message seems to echo in the experience of the faithful. Each year, large numbers of people come to Mass on this day and are marked with ashes on their forehead.

Even before Mass it was obvious to those arriving that we are entering a new season. The Cathedral looks very bare: no flowers, some of the decoration removed. The starkness of Lent stands in stark contrast to the vibrancy of the Easter feast which follows.

After the Gospel reading, the Bishop blessed the ashes. He then knelt down as he received the ashes on his forehead, the first of those present to be marked with this sign of repentance.

The Bishop then marked the foreheads of the concelebrating priests; here the Cathedral Dean, Canon Stephen Shield, receives the ashes. This symbol is a Biblical sign of repentance and of sorrow for sins; it also reminds us of our mortality ("you are dust, and to dust you shall return") and therefore calls us to use well our time on earth.

The congregation then approached the Bishop and the priests to receive their ashes...

... forming queues in the central aisle and side aisles as they each symbolically declared their contrition for their failings. It is perhaps surprising - and also encouraging - that within the rites of the Church's year, it is not only the great feasts and celebrations to which people respond; this penitential act also draws people in great number.

After each person had been marked with the ashes, the Mass continued as usual. So it is that the great season of Lent is underway, and for the weeks ahead we keep a 40-day feast, following the example of Our Lord at the beginning of His ministry. If you haven't yet been to Mass, it's more than likely that your local parish has an evening celebration. The Cathedral's last Mass of the day is at 7:30pm.