The origin of the season of Lent lies not in any conscious re-enactment of our Lord's time in the wilderness, which remains only a secondary theme of the season, but in the rigorous preparation of Christians for the celebration of the death and resurrectlon of Christ in Holy Week and at Easter. The observance of Lent was at first undertaken by the baptismal candidates, for whom it was the final part of their preparation before initiation into the Church in the Easter liturgy, and by those who had been excommunicated for grave and public sin and would be readmitted to the Church's sacramental life in time for Easter after a period of penance. It was not long before the Church realized the benefit to all Christians of joining these partlcular categories of people in a season of preparation marked by penitence expressed in prayer and fasting. It is this sense of preparation, and so of eager expectation with Good Friday and Easter Day always in view, that should characterize the season of Lent.

The popular idea of 'giving things up' in Lent, however inadequately it is often understood, has its liturgical expression in the stark simplicty of Lenten worship. In part this is to express a spirit of penitence. But it is also in order to provide striking contrast wlth the joyful celebration of Easter. This 'giving up' traditionally includes the omission of the Gloria in Excelsis at the eucharist, the absence of flowers from the church, the restrained use of the organ to accompany worship, and the careful selection of texts (for instance of hymns) to avoid the use of the word 'Alleluia' and similar expressions of joy which will greet the resurrection on Easter Day. These are only examples of how a distinctive atmosphere can be introduced into the worship of the season. Priest and people must aim at an austerity that is quite different from dreariness.

The spirit of the season is also expressed by a restraint in the observance of Holy Days that interrupt the Lent ethos. The feast days of St Joseph and the Annunciation are legitimate intrusions, appropriately marked by the return of the Gloria and other signs of festival. But the lesser commemorations, except where they have particular local significance, are best observed only by inclusion in the prayers of intercession.

There has also grown up a custom of 'veiling' crosses (and, in some churches, statues also) either for the whole of Lent or from Palm Sunday. In part this development has been a misunderstanding of an early custom. What was being veiled was not the cross but the splendour of rich and jewelled metalwork. To obscure the cross in Lent and Holy Week is misplaced, though the substitution of a simple wooden cross or crucifix for a more colourful or expensive one might be an impressive symbol, and the removal of banners and pictures could enhance the atmosphere of Lent.

The order given for Ash Wednesday (with an indication that it might be used instead on the First Sunday in Lent) seeks to provide a service characterized by silence, relfection, and penitence. The service is set out in a form which combines it with the eucharist, although it may be used independently. The traditional practice of imposition of ashes is included, but the rite may profitably be used even when this custom is not followed. The service is designed not only to mark a special day but to start the local Christian congregation off on a path that can be seen, even at this early stage, to be leading to the Good Friday and Easter celebrations. Its emphasis is therefore as much on the season it inaugurates as on the day it marks.


  1. Occasions for Use This service is intended pnmarily for use on Ash Wednesday. Where this is not possible it may be used on the First Sunday in Lent.
  2. The Litany The Litany at section 14 may be used at section 4. Where it is so used, the texts printed at section 46A are not used.
  3. Silence The time of silence at section 15 is an integral part of the rite and should not be omitted or reduced to a mere pause.
  4. Confession The forms printed in Holy Communion Rite A (Sections 7, 27, and 80) may be used instead of that provided here at section 16.
  5. Absolution Either section 20 or 21 should be included if there is no Imposition of Ashes. If there is an Imposition of Ashes both may be omitted.
  6. The Ash, which may be used at sections 17 and 18, is by tradition the ash of the burned palms from the previous Palm Sunday, but other provision may be made.
  7. Imposition of Ashes The president may be assisted by others. Where there is a large congregation, it is better that several assist the presldent than that the words at section 18 be abbreviated Nevertheless the president may, if necessity dictates, use only one of the two sentences at section 18 or impose ashes in silence.
  8. The Liturgical Colour for this service is violet or Lent array.
    An Order for the Beginning of Lent | title page