Letter from the Dean Jan – Apr 2015

Dear friends in Christ,
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and occurs forty days before Easter.
It falls on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. Ash Wednesday can occur as early as 4 February or as late as 10 March. In 2015 Ash Wednesday fell on 18 February. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lenten season.
The symbol of Ash Wednesday
is the signing of a cross on the fore-head
using the ashes made out of the previous year’s palm crosses.
The Liturgical colour is purple.

Let me highlight fasting and the origins of Ash Wednesday. The earliest preparation for Easter did not include a long Lenten fast. Around mid-second century when the annual celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection was introduced there was only a solemn forty hour fast which was directed entirely to participating in the Paschal sacraments. At this time fasting was understood to be a “sacrament” – that is a physical tangible hunger and self-emptying reminding those early Christians that their hunger was truly for Christ and it could only be satisfied by Him. The penance intensified their longing for the presence of the bridegroom and the fasting that would come with the celebration of Baptism and the Eucharist. Through these sacraments the Lord established his abiding presence in the Church.

As time went on the period of fasting before the celebration of the Easter mysteries was extended. First in the fourth century to a forty day period, but not forty fast days since fasting was never permitted on a Sunday, the day when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. By the sixth century the value of fasting as ascetic practice in itself became important and by around the eighth century Lent was extended to begin before the first Sunday of Lent so that there would be forty days. Hence the origin of Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is a day on which to take seriously the reality of our utter dependence on God a day on which to remember how lost we are when we rely upon our own merit and virtue – how quickly things turn to dust and ashes in our own hands without the grace of God sustaining and leading us. On this day we need to pray for a deepened sense of God’s grace throughout the days of Lent ahead, so we can come to know more clearly and dearly the sustaining love of God. Without it we are already dust to which we shall return, but not yet for God’s sake.

We are reminded by the creative power of God that we are mortal beings and that only God is immortal. I recommend that we observe Lent as a period of fasting and of soul-searching about areas in our lives where there has been the absence of “Christlikeness” in our lives so that we can celebrate Easter with Great joy.

May God bless you all.