Since early days Christians have observed with devotion the time of our Lord's passion and resurrection. It became the custom of the Church to prepare for this by a season of penitence and fasting. At first, the season of Lent was for those who were preparing for Baptism at Easter and those to be restored to the Church's fellowship from which they had been separated by sin.
The Church came to see that all Christians might take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the Gospel and so grow in faith and in devotion to Jesus.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and invites us to observe Lent as a holy season. As we journey through Lent to Jerusalem and the cross, we are called to be Jesus' disciples ever more closely. Ash Wednesday invites us to cast off whatever hinders us, to experience refreshment of faith and the joy of the resurrection.
The Ash Wednesday service is based on the usual service of Holy Communion. A distinctive aspect of the service is the 'Imposition of Ashes', which follows the bible readings, psalm and gospel. The minister says this prayer.
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: grant that these ashes may be a sign to us of our mortality and penitence, and that we may remember that is is only by your generous gift that we are restored and given eternal life: through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.
The sign of the cross is marked in ash on the forehead of each person who wishes it, including the minister, with these words: Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ. Each person answers: Amen.
The service continues with special prayers of penitence and the announcement of God's forgiveness (absolution), followed by Holy Communion.