Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful, were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. In this manner, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need that all Christians continually have to renew our repentance and faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and alms-giving; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
For a modern prayer book service, we still have very deep roots in some old traditions. In calling the church to prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, we’re standing on a thousand years or more of Christian spirituality, asceticism, and even theological anthropology. These are not arbitrary spiritual disciplines that happened to be popular at key times in history. Rather, they are disciplines especially picked to combat our three-fold enemy: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Prayer is our weapon against the Devil – spiritual enemies can only be fought in spiritual activity. Fasting is our weapon against the flesh – denying our apparently-natural desires is how we learn to resist such passions. Alms-giving is our weapon against the world, especially in a consumerist age such as ours where we’re told to spend, spend, spend (on ourselves of course!).
And the liturgy follows this up with the traditional Gospel lesson for Ash Wednesday: Matthew 6:1-6,16-18(19-21). Technically, the traditional Gospel is just verses 16-21, so we recommend you include the verses that the ACNA lectionary considers as optional. That way, the full reading is basically our Lord’s quick “how-to” guide for Lent. “When you pray… When you fast… Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” So really, the Ash Wednesday liturgy starts with a call to spiritual disciplines, and then in the Scripture lessons explain how we are to pursue them. It’s all quite neat, really!