This is a new thing for our department and it'll be new--the imposition of ashes thing--for a lot of our students, most of whom don't come from liturgical traditions.
So for the Order of Service we'll be handing out I asked Caren, who is a student worker in our department and my partner in crime for most of the "innovations" I try out in the department, to write up something to explain Ash Wednesday and the imposition of ashes for our majors who are unfamiliar with these practices. Here is what Caren wrote:
And a penitential psalm for the day:Regarding the Imposition of AshesOriginally called dies cinerum (day of ashes), Ash Wednesday dates back from at least the 8th century. Ashes historically symbolize an outer manifestation of inner repentance or mourning. It is not commanded biblically but is deeply rooted in Christian antiquity, bringing followers of Christ together each year to begin the season of Lent. Just as Daniel comes “pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Dn 9:3) as a sign of Israel’s repentance, we too come together as an acknowledgement of our own frailty and need for atonement.
In the service, reminded that we are dust and that it is to dust that we shall return (Gn 3:19), ashes are placed on the penitent’s forehead (if so desired) in the shape of a cross to signify the sacrifice of Christ, which brings forgiveness for all sins. These ashes are ideally made from burning palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday, remembering Jesus approaching Jerusalem and his imminent death. Although the need for humility and repentance is great with the imposition of ashes, the anticipation and hope of Easter Sunday remains present all the while.
Psalm 32.1-7May you have a holy Lenten season.
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the one against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Therefore let everyone who is godly
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.