Tag Archives: Ash Wednesday

The joy of Shrove Tuesday and the solemnity of Ash Wednesday

My entire family loves Shrove Tuesday. When the kids were younger, and we lived in a rectory that was beside the church where their Dad served as priest, they would dash over to the church as soon as they could to “help” and eat as many pancakes and sausages as they could manage.

The kids (and me!), loved it for that reason, but also the community spirit and warmth of gathering in a church basement and eating together with people we knew so well, and also the community members who would wander in for the free feast. Pancake Tuesday reminded us, and still does, that we are part of the family of Christ that worships together, but also eats and celebrates and enjoys maple syrup together as well.

For many Christians around the world, Lent is a penitent journey toward Easter.

And of course, Shrove Tuesday is the night before Ash Wednesday. In the church liturgical calendar, that is the special and solemn day that marks the beginning of Lent. And  Lent, of course, is the penitential season recalling the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, where he withstood temptation and prepared himself for all that lay ahead.

Christians all over the world fast during the 40 days of Lent (excluding the Sundays, which mark Christ’s resurrection, and so fasting does not occur on a Sunday). Christians who observe these times typically give something up during Lent (fasting from a habit or a comfort) in order to free up time or resources that can be offered to God instead.

If you have not been to an Ash Wednesday service, I highly recommend the experience. Find a liturgical church in your neighbourhood and you will likely find an Ash Wednesday service.

The service is moving, deeply spiritual, quiet, contemplative and beautifully poetic. The centrepiece of the service involves the “imposition of ashes” on your forehead by a priest or minister as you kneel at the front of the church. The ashes are made from the burned palm branches of the Palm Sunday parade the year before. The minister will gently trace a cross on your forehead and say these stark and wintery words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And off into Lent we go, penitent and reflective until the joy of Easter strikes yet again.

Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today. The painting in this blog was done by her father-in-law, David Stiller.