Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Penetential Office for Ash Wednesday (Part II)

In honor of the beginning of Lent, I am posting the beginning of the Penetential Office for Ash Wednesday as found in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

Psalm 51 (English Standard Version)

51:1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Then one of the several prayers we pray is:

Turn Thou us, O good Lord, and so shall we be turned. Be favourable, O Lord, be favorable to Thy people, who turn to Thee in weeping, fasting, and praying. For Thou art a merciful God, full of compassion, long-suffering, and of great pity. Thou sparest when we deserve punishment, and in Thy wrath thinkest upon mercy. Spare Thy people, good Lord, spare them. And let not Thine heritage be brought to confusion. Hear us, O Lord, for Thy mercy is great, and after the multitude of Thy mercies look upon us; through the merits and mediation of Thy blessed Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

After the prayers, Father Acker came around with a small bowl of very fine black ashes. Some of the ashes were from the palms given our on Palm Sunday (and included some palms I had saved from Lake Murray's Palm Sunday observance) and some ashes were at least 50 years old, perhaps even close to 100 years old as they have been passed down from priest to priest, symbolizing the sinfulness of humankind as well as the forgiving grace of God throughout the ages. After mixing the ashes with holy water, he made a cross of ashes on his own forehead before coming around to each of us, making a cross in ashes upon our foreheads as he somberly intoned:

Remember o man, that thou art dust, and to dust shalt thou return.

After the Imposition of Ashes (the significance of which you can find a few posts down in the Ash Wednesday and Lent post, the one with the ashes on my forehead), we continued on with our usual celebration of the Eucharist. After the service was done, the boys were wiping off their ashes in the car immediately. I left mine on, smudged though it became throughout the day. I forgot to take a photo right away when I got home, so it is rather hard to see in the photo below.

Ash Wednesday makes me face my own sin and the effect my sin has on myself, God, and others in a way that no other day does. I am marked as Christ's own with ashes of repentance, showing myself publicly to be a sinner in need of Christ's sacrifice and redemption. My need for Christ was published on my forehead throughout the day -- not for my own pride but for my humilty. It's hard for me to own up to my sin, and Ash Wednesday does that very thing, publically and irrevocably.

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