Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Today is the forty-sixth day before Easter Sunday, which means that it is Ash Wednesday and therefore the beginning of Lent in many Western Christian traditions. There are some hymns that refer to the "forty days" of Lent, because technically the Sundays of Lent are not counted for some reason. As the dates of Easter and Ash Wednesday change each year, some hymnals over the years printed charts giving the dates for several years into the future, but now we have the Internet to do that calculation for us, and it can go both into the future and the past as far as we might want.

The custom of the distribution of ashes dates back to at least the tenth century, signifying public penitence at the start of a season of repentance and reflection. Different denominations (and, of course, different churches within denominations) have different ideas about Lent, whether it requires fasting or only "giving up" things, or whether it might be better to focus on the "turning away" aspect of repentance rather than the self-flagellistic aspect.

At any rate, fasting of some sort has generally been considered part of the Lenten tradition, as seen in this hymn by Joseph Thrupp, which first appeared in Psalms and Hymns for Pub­lic Wor­ship (1853).

Awhile in spirit, Christ, to thee
Into the desert we would flee;
Awhile upon the barren steep
Our fast with thee in spirit keep.

And in our hearts to feel and own
That we live not by bread alone.
Be thou our Helper in the strife,
Be thou our true, our inward Life.

And while, at thy command we pray,
“Give us our bread from day to day,”
May we with thee, O Christ, be fed,
Thou Word of God, thou living Bread.

Joseph F. Thrupp, 1853; alt.
Robert H. Earnshaw, 19th c. (?)

One Year Ago: Lord, who throughout these forty days

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