Ash Wednesday

The First Day of Lent


The reproach of Nathan and the penance of King David, 10th century, Paris Psalter.

Psalm 51

Miserere mei, Deus

HAVE mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness : according to the multitude of thy mercies do away mine offences.
2. Wash me throughly from my wickedness : and cleanse me from my sin.
3. For I acknowledge my faults : and my sin is ever before me.
4. 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.
5. Behold, I was shapen in wickedness : and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
6. But lo, thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
7. Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean : thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8. Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness : that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9. Turn thy face from my sins : and put out all my misdeeds.
10. Make me a clean heart, O God : and renew a right spirit within me.
11. Cast me not away from thy presence : and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
12. O give me the comfort of thy help again : and stablish me with thy free Spirit.
13. Then shall I teach thy ways unto the wicked : and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
14. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou that art the God of my health : and my tongue shall sing of thy righteousness.
15. Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord : and my mouth shall shew thy praise.
16. For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee : but thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
17. The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit : a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.
18. O be favourable and gracious unto Sion : build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
19. 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.

Psalm 38

Domine, ne in furore

PUT me not to rebuke, O Lord, in thine anger : neither chasten me in thy heavy displeasure.
2. For thine arrows stick fast in me : and thy hand presseth me sore.
3. There is no health in my flesh, because of thy displeasure : neither is there any rest in my bones, by reason of my sin.
4. For my wickednesses are gone over my head : and are like a sore burden, too heavy for me to bear.
5. My wounds stink, and are corrupt : through my foolishness.
6. I am brought into so great trouble and misery : that I go mourning all the day long.
7. For my loins are filled with a sore disease : and there is no whole part in my body.
8. I am feeble, and sore smitten : I have roared for the very disquietness of my heart.
9. Lord, thou knowest all my desire : and my groaning is not hid from thee.
10. My heart panteth, my strength hath failed me : and the sight of mine eyes is gone from me.
11. My lovers and my neighbours did stand looking upon my trouble : and my kinsmen stood afar off.
12. They also that sought after my life laid snares for me : and they that went about to do me evil talked of wickedness, and imagined deceit all the day long.
13. As for me, I was like a deaf man, and heard not : and as one that is dumb, who doth not open his mouth.
14. I became even as a man that heareth not : and in whose mouth are no reproofs.
15. For in thee, O Lord, have I put my trust : thou shalt answer for me, O Lord my God.
16. I have required that they, even mine enemies, should not triumph over me : for when my foot slipped, they rejoiced greatly against me.
17. And I, truly, am set in the plague : and my heaviness is ever in my sight.
18. For I will confess my wickedness : and be sorry for my sin.
19. But mine enemies live, and are mighty : and they that hate me wrongfully are many in number.
20. They also that reward evil for good are against me : because I follow the thing that good is.
21. Forsake me not, O Lord my God : be not thou far from me.
22. Haste thee to help me : O Lord God of my salvation.

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.


ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This Collect is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.


Joel 2:12-17

TURN ye even to me, saith the Lord, with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning. And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return, and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, even a meat-offering and a drink-offering unto the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts; let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet; let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?


St. Matthew 6:16-21

WHEN ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.


from The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels.
A Devotional Exposition of the Continuous Teaching of the Church Throughout the Year, Melville Scott, Vicar of Castlechurch, Stafford,
Second Edition, Bemrose & Sons, London, 1903.

Upon this day the Church teaches the duty and nature of fasting, as the expression of earnest penitence and the accompaniment of special prayer. Few realize the extent of the disciplinary provisions of the Church as shown not only in the forty days of Lent, but also in the provision of Ember weeks, the three Rogations days, the sixteen vigils, and the weekly fast on every Friday in the year. Equally remarkable is the strenuous care with which she guards these special seasons from misuse. We have already noted the three Sundays of Lenten preparation. On Ash Wednesday the whole teaching of the day is intended to ensure the spiritual use of abstinence as an aid to the devotional life, and as a check upon worldliness and unspirituality, and against its misuse as fostering pride.

FOR THE EPISTLE — Joel 2:12-17 — Fasting under the Old Testament

A. Its Inward Reality.

It was to be the accompaniment of the true conversion of a heart turned to God; of a penitence which mourns and weeps for sin; of a contrition which rends the heart and not the garments; of an entire trust in the mercy of God, Who is slow to anger and of great kindness.

B. Its Outward Expression.

All classes and ages are to unite in this true and heartfelt repentance. The call is to be public; there is to be a solemn assembly: the whole people are to be gathered. The elders are not too old, nor the children too young. None are to consider themselves too deeply engaged with the pleasures or the duties of life to attend. The priests are to plead on behalf of the people, standing as the people’s representatives “between the porch and the altar.”

They are to plead the covenant relation of the nation as God’s people and inheritance. We are not to turn to God to make Him ours, but because we are His. God is so graciously concerned in us that we can plead that our loss will be His reproach, and our restoration His glory. Our covenant position conferred in baptism is our plea for grace, and our regeneration our encouragement to “arise and go” to our Heavenly Father, though unworthy to be called His children.

Our position given by grace is a pledge that sufficient grace will be given us to walk worthily of it, and that our Father will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.

It is much to be noticed that the Church year does not begin with Ash Wednesday, but that Christmas and Epiphany precede the penitence of Lent. Thus the Church of both Testaments argues from covenant to conversion, and not, as is so often done, from conversion to covenant.


THE GOSPEL — S. Matthew 6:16-21 — Fasting under
the New Testament

Still greater stress is laid by our Saviour upon inward reality. He warns us against mingling any shallow vanities, self-applause, or imagined meritoriousness with our spiritual efforts, our approaches to God, our works done for Him.

Christ does not forbid public fasting any more than public prayers, so that all be done for His sake and to Him alone. The Gospel may be considered as teaching the rewards of self-discipline.

A. The Reward of Men.

This is not to be sought. We may not indulge in thoughts of self in our charities, prayers, or fastings. The less we think of that very doubtful character the better, and if we never thought of him except to mend him we should not go far wrong. We are to restrain and silence him all we can, and are to do this in fear:—

(1)Of a most humiliating word.
The word hypocrite is the portion of those who serve self while appearing to be serving God. They are play-actors at religion, representing thoughts they do not think, and uttering words and prayers they do not feel. They worship not God, but self.

(2) Of an alarming truth.
Such “have received their reward”—i.e., they shall have no other. The transient delight of their own self-approval and the approval of others is all the reward they shall ever know. Self has been their God—self must be their rewarder.

B. The Reward of God.

We are to be perfectly simple and natural in our religious life, and to make no parade of religious observance. If we fast, the world is to know very little about it, and we are to be as well dressed, as cheerful, and as self-forgetting as possible. We are not to be ashamed of God’s service, nor to shrink from confessing Christ before men, for this passage forbids not duty, but only all motives lower than duty.

Such forgetfulness of self shall not miss its reward. As the self-remembering shall be forgotten, so the self-forgetting shall be remembered. Truly astonished shall such be in the day of God’s remembrance (cf. S. Matt. 25:37-39).

C. The Comparison of the Two Rewards.

Earthly rewards are corruptible and precarious, but those of God are incorruptible and secure. Our hearts will follow our labours. If we have laboured for earthly treasure our hearts will be set on earth; if for heavenly, they will rise heavenwards. The pursuit of heavenly duties is the way to get a heavenly mind.


THE COLLECT — The Lenten Prayer

This Collect, though suitable to the day as teaching the true motive of abstinence, belongs to the whole Lenten season, during which it is to be repeated daily, and shews how we are to regard Lent as the passage from sin to penitence and pardon.

A. The Motives of Penitence.

These are found in the character of God—in His love in Creation which has not been removed by the Fall, in His special promises through Christ to those who truly repent. It is very noticeable that Epiphany must ever come before Lent, for sin is only realized by comparison, and only when we have seen the manifestation of holiness in Christ can we repent in the dust and ashes of Ash Wednesday.

B. The Source of Penitence.

This also is from God. A contrite heart is not natural to us, but must be created and fully formed in us before we can lament our actual sins or deplore the wretchedness of our condition in any sense worthily or adequately.

C. The Blessings of Penitence.

These are the remission of the sins which we lament, and the forgiveness of our inward condition of sinfulness. These benefits are only to be obtained from God, Who is the God of all mercy. Our repentance cannot pardon us, but God alone, yet He can only pardon repentance. His pardon is not, however, proportioned to our repentance, for it is perfect, while our repentance can, at best, only be worthy.