Ash Wednesday is an ancient holy day in the Christian calendar. It marks the beginning of the season of Lent – a time of penitence, discipline, and renewal. In the Ash Wednesday service we are reminded of our mortality, we confess our sins, and we experience forgiveness through Christ’s death and resurrection. The “imposition of ashes” is a central part of the service. During this time, you are invited to come forward to receive the ashes on your forehead. In Scripture, ashes serve both as a symbol of mortality and as a sign of mourning and repentance. But neither sin nor death are the final word. We leave the service in confidence and gratitude: Christ has conquered death, and nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
A Commination or Denouncing of God’s Anger and Judgments Against Sinners
To be used on the first day of Lent, and at other times as the ordinary shall appoint. After Morning Prayer, the Litany ended, according to the accustomed manner, the Priest shall in the reading Pew or Pulpit say, (1662 BCP)
Brothers and sisters, there has been, from ancient times, a godly custom in the Church, that, at the beginning of Lent, Christian people should be warned and reminded in a special manner, of the wrath of God revealed by heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness, in order that they may take to heart their own sinfulness and continuing need to turn to God, and not become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. It is therefore fitting, that at this time (in the presence of you all) should be read the general sentences of God’s cursing against impenitent sinners, gathered out of the twenty-seventh chapter of Deuteronomy, and other places of Scripture; and that you should answer to every sentence, Amen: to the intent that, being admonished of the great indignation of God against sinners, you may be moved to sincere and true repentance, and may walk more warily in these dangerous days, fleeing from such vices, for the which you affirm with your own mouths, the curse of God to be due.
Then the minister says.
Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of craftsman, and sets it up in secret.
All answering AMEN
Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father and his mother. AMEN
Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark. AMEN.
Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road. AMEN.
Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. AMEN.
Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret. AMEN.
Cursed be anyone who lies with his neighbor’s wife. AMEN
Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood. AMEN.
Cursed be anyone who puts his trust in man, and takes man for his defense, and in his heart departs from the Lord. AMEN.
Cursed be the unmerciful, the sexually immoral, and the greedy, the idolaters, slanderers, drunkards, and swindlers. AMEN.
Then the minister says
Now seeing that all are accursed (as the Prophet David bears witness) who err, and wander from the commandments of God, let us (remembering the dreadful judgment hanging over our heads, and being always at hand) return to our Lord God, with all contrition and meekness of heart mourning and lamenting our sinful life, acknowledging and confessing our offences, and seeking to bear fruit worthy of repentance. Even now is the axe laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit, is cut down and thrown into the fire. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God: he shall rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. Then, on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment shall be revealed, shall appear the wrath that those with a hard and impenitent heart are storing up for themselves, who presumed upon the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience, by which he meant to lead them to repentance. Then they will call upon me, says the Lord, but I will not answer. They will seek me diligently but will not find me. And because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, it shall be too late to knock, when the door shall be shut, and too late to cry for mercy, when it is the time of justice. O terrible voice of most just judgment, which shall be pronounced upon them, when it shall be said to them: “Depart from me, you cursed, into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Let us, brothers and sisters, take heed in good time, for now is the day of salvation. Night is coming when no one can work; but let us while we have the light, believe in the light, that we may become sons of light; that we may not be caste into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Let us not abuse the goodness of God, who calls us mercifully to amendment, and of his endless pity promises us forgiveness of that which is past, if (with a whole mind and true heart) we return to him. Though our sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone (declares the Lord God) so turn and live. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins. He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. Let us therefore return to him, who is the merciful receiver of all true penitent sinners, assuring our selves that he is ready to receive us, and most willing to pardon us, if we come to him, with faithful repentance, if we will submit our selves to him, and from that moment on walk in his ways; if we will take his easy yoke, and light burden upon us, to follow him in lowliness, patience, and charity, and be ordered by the governance of his Holy Spirit, seeking always his glory, and serving him duly in our vocation with thanksgiving. If we do this, Christ will deliver us from the curse of the law, and from the extreme malediction, that shall alight upon those who shall be set on the left hand. And he will set us on his right hand, and give us the blessed benediction of his Father, commanding us to take possession of his glorious kingdom; to which he condescends to bring us all, out of his infinite mercy. Amen.
All kneel and say this Psalm.
Misere mei deus (Psalm 51:1-17)
HAVE mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness : according to the multitude of thy mercies do away mine offences.
Wash me throughly from my wickedness : and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults : and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight : that thou mightest be justified in thy saying, and clear when thou art judged.
Behold, I was shapen in wickedness : and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
But lo, thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean : thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
Turn thy face away from my sins : and put out all my misdeeds.
Make me a clean heart, O God : and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence : and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
O give me the comfort of thy help again : and stablish me with thy free Spirit.
Then shall I teach thy ways unto the wicked: and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou that art the God of my health : and my tongue shall sing of thy righteousness.
Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord : and my mouth shall shew thy praise.
For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee : but thou delightest not in burnt-offering.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit : a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.
O be favourable and gracious unto Sion : build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations : then shall they offer young bullocks upon thine altar.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen.
Then the minister says
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. AMEN.
Lord, save your servants,
who put their trust in you.
Lord, send them help from your holy place,
and evermore defend them.
Help us, O God, our Savior; and for the glory of your Name deliver us;
be merciful to us sinners, for your name’s sake.
Lord, hear our prayer,
and let our cry come to you.
Let us pray.
O Lord, we implore you to mercifully hear our prayers, and spare all those who confess their sins to you, that they (whose consciences by sin are accused) by your merciful pardon may be absolved; through Christ our Lord. AMEN.
O Most mighty God, and merciful Father, you have compassion upon all people, and hate nothing that you have made: you do not desire the death of sinners, but rather that they should turn from sin, and be saved: mercifully forgive us our offenses, and comfort us, who are grieved and wearied with the burden of our sin. Your property is to have mercy, to you alone belongs the forgiveness of sins: spare us therefore good Lord, spare your people whom you have redeemed. Enter not into judgment with your servants, who are vile dust, and miserable sinners, but so turn your anger from us who meekly acknowledge our vileness, and truly repent of our faults: so make haste to help us in this world, that we may ever live with you in the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
Turn us, O good Lord, and so shall we be turned. Be favorable O Lord, be favorable to your people, who turn to you, in weeping, fasting, and praying, for you are a merciful God, full of compassion, long suffering, and of a great pity. You spare us when we deserve punishment, and in your wrath you think upon mercy, spare your people good Lord, spare them, and let not your heritage be brought to confusion: hear us O Lord for your mercy is great, and after the multitude of your mercies, look upon us; through the merits and mediation of your blessed Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
Then the minister alone says
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance on you and give you peace, both now and evermore. AMEN.