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Liturgy: Ash Wednesday

Geraldine Martin  |  16 February 2017

Lent is a time to stop and reflect.  It is a time to be still, to take stock, to re-evaluate our lives and the people we are becoming.  It is a time to reflect upon how we can make a difference especially to the people around us. 

Setting the scene:

This liturgy can be done on the classroom or in the chapel.

On the altar or table you will need a cross, (could be made with just two dried sticks tied together in the middle) standing in dry sand and copy of the Bible. You will need 6 large rocks with the words Love, Hope, Respect, Generosity, Openness, and Hospitality written on them. If this done in a chapel or in a space where students congregate these words could be put up on a wall to remind them what they have agreed to do this Lent.

Ashes from your local Parish Church.

You will need readers, people to distribute ashes and a container of polished rocks (available from nurseries or garden centres), one rock per person in the congregation.

Gathering Prayer:

Reader: In the middle of our busy week, we pause to observe Ash Wednesday together as a faith community.  We begin our journey through Lent, Holy Week and Easter and like any organised traveller we want to pack our bags to make sure we have everything to make our six week journey easy. But Ash Wednesday is about leaving baggage behind and braving the unknown carrying nothing but the mark of God’s beloved and also more respect, love, generosity, openness, hospitality and hope in our hearts. 

Six students will now bring up six stones with the words love, hope, respect, generosity, openness and hospitality written on them and place them around the cross which has been placed on the table or altar. As they place each stone they say the following:

Student 1:  May the stone of hatred become love

Student 2:  May the stone of despair become hope

Student 3:  May the stone of gossip become respect

Student 4:  May the stone of greed become generosity.

Student 5:  May the stone of arrogance become openness.

Student 6:  May the stone of indifference become hospitality. 

All: God of mercy, You call us to go beyond ourselves and heed your call to give alms, to fast and to pray.  Open our eyes, ears and hearts to your word today so that we can truly understand what this means in our lives.  We All sing together: make this prayer through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

'Open our eyes Lord' or play Jesse Manubisan Youtube video of the same song.  

Reader:  A story of human kindness incorporating the word “Ubuntu” an African word meaning ‘human kindness’ although its meaning is much bigger in scope than that – it embodies the ideas of connection, community and mutual caring for all – something we want to concentrate on this Lent. It has also been translated as 'I am because we are'.

At the Festival of Peace, the journalist and philosopher Lia Diskin related a beautiful and touching story of a tribe in Africa she called Ubuntu.

She explained how an anthropologist had been studying the habits and customs of this tribe, and when he finished his work, had to wait for transportation that would take him to the airport to return home. He’d always been surrounded by the children of the tribe, so to help pass the time before he left, he proposed a game for the children to play.

He’d bought lots of candy and sweets in the city, so he put everything in a basket with a beautiful ribbon attached. He placed it under a solitary tree, and then he called the kids together. He drew a line on the ground and explained that they should wait behind the line for his signal. And that when he said “Go!” they should rush over to the basket, and the first to arrive there would win all the candies.

When he said 'Go!' they all unexpectedly held each other’s hands and ran off towards the tree as a group. Once there, they simply shared the candy with each other and happily ate it.

The anthropologist was very surprised. He asked them why they had all gone together, especially if the first one to arrive at the tree could have won everything in the basket – all the sweets.

A young girl simply replied: 'How can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?'

The anthropologist was dumbfounded! For months and months he’d been studying the tribe, yet it was only now that he really understood their true essence…


Reader: We will now listen to the word of Paul to the Roman 12:9-18.

Marks of a True Christian

Let love be genuine;  hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;

Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour,

Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Rejoice in hope, patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;  do not claim to be wiser than you are.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 

The Word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.


As a reflection during this lent we need to ask ourselves all the questions that come up in the story and the reading from Paul.  We need to realise that we need each other, family and friends to become the best person we can be.  In silence you could ask yourselves the questions

What do I hope to do during Lent this year?

How can I make a difference to those around me this Lent?

What can I do for those less fortunate than me?  

Distrubtion of Ashes

Students could mark each other’s foreheads by passing the container of the ashes to each other especially if it is a small group.  It will be easier to have two or three people distributing the ashes if it is a large group. 

The following words are said as the Ashes are distributed:

Repent, and believe in the Gospel. OR Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  

Reader: Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches blessed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday and placing them on the heads of participants to the accompaniment of the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”. The ashes we will receive are a reminder of the simpleness of life. As you are marked with these ashes, we remember that we are not perfect. The cross on our forehead reminds us that we have sinned. Let us receive our cross and then move to one of the containers with the small rocks. Choose a stone and when you get back to the classroom write one thing that you will be focussing on this Lent.

Prayers of the faithful

Reader: We pray for our Church in its mission to share the love and mercy of God in our world.  Lord, hear us

All: Lord, hear our prayer.

Reader: We pray for our world and the hope of a selfless spirit of generosity to others.  Lord, hear us.

All: Lord, hear our prayer

Reader: We pray for our community that it reflects your love towards us.  Lord hear us.

All: Lord, hear our prayer.  

We pray for ourselves and our commitment to honour the Lenten call to almsgiving, and generosity and openness to all.

Final Prayer

Reader: God of life and love,

We give thanks for our grace in our lives.

Give us the strength and wisdom to live out the promises we made to you today, to make a difference through our giving and our prayer.  We make this prayer in Jesus’ name.

All: Amen

You could finish with the song 'Go Make a Difference' by Steve Angrisano and Tom Tomaszek. Students could join in.   


Photo: John RagaiFlickr CreativeCommon



Topic tags: feastdays, ourrelationshipwithgod, scriptureandjesus, prayer, liturgyandthesacrame

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