Ash Wednesday – Years A, B & C

Here are the resources you need for Ash Wednesday. Please feel free to choose what is suitable for your congregation’s needs. You will notice that the orders of service are available in different formats: choose the “pdf” format if you want something that is ready to print and photocopy, the “doc” or “rtf” format if you wish to change the formatting yourself or the “ppt” format if you use PowerPoint.


As the name implies, Ash Wednesday is the day on which Christians are marked with the sign of the cross in ashes. This ceremony is optional and, if introduced for the first time, may be preceded with instruction as to its meaning.

The imposition of ashes is a personal reminder of our mortal nature (Genesis 2:7, ‘The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground’) and of our need to repent and die to sin. Since the ashes are imposed in the sign of the cross, the imposition is also a reminder that Christ became dust and ashes like us, taking on our mortal nature and bearing our sin, so that we might be redeemed. Some people object to the ceremony on the basis of the gospel for the day (‘Some disfigure their faces . . . but when you fast, wash your face’) but imposition of ashes is not intended to be a public sign to others of our piety.

The ashes are prepared by burning dry leaves and, when the ashes are cool, passing them through a sieve to produce a fine powder. Traditionally, the ashes come from the leaves of the branches used at the procession with palms on Palm Sunday of the previous year.

The ashes are placed in a small bowl about two inches across. The bowl should comfortably sit in the palm of the left hand, leaving the right hand free to apply the ashes. Before the Ash Wednesday service begins, the bowl of ashes is placed on a side table or on the corner of the altar ready for use.

If the imposition of ashes is used in the service, the rite takes place after the sermon. This is to enable the sermon to serve as a call to repentance. It also enables the minister/leader to explain the rite during the sermon if the imposition of ashes is new to the congregation’s experience.

The text of the rite can be found in the service orders below. The responses (from the funeral service) are said. During the final collect, the minister/leader may touch the bowl of ashes, or make the sign of the cross over them, to indicate the ashes referred to in the prayer. The minister/leader then asks the worshippers to come forward (if they wish) and receive the imposition. Children also may be encouraged to participate. The worshippers may approach the altar as for continuous communion, or they may simply come forward in single file. The minister/leader (with the help of an assistant if the congregation is large) imposes the ashes by rubbing some of the ash between his thumb and forefinger of his right hand and then, with his thumb (using the other fingers of his hand to brush aside hair etc) he marks the forehead of the worshippers with a small cross.

The minister/leader will say:  Remember that you are dust, and that to dust you shall return. It is essential to address each worshipper individually. Having received the ashes, the worshipper returns to his or her place. After all who wish to have received the ashes, either the minister/leader marks himself with the ashes, or this may be done by his assistant. A period of silence may be observed, and then the service continues with the prayers.

  • Altar colour: Violet
  • Bible readings:
    FIRST READING Joel 2:1,2,12-17 A call to repentance
    or Isaiah 58:1-12 A fast acceptable to the Lord
    PSALM Psalm 51:1-17
    SECOND READING 2 Corinthians 5:20b- 6:10 Be reconciled to God
    GOSPEL Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 Giving to the poor, praying , and fasting
  • Sermons:
    Lay-readers please note: the linked sermons have not been edited for general use. As part of your preparations, keep in mind that they have been written for specific people in a specific context, and for this reason the issues they address or the examples they use may not be entirely suitable for people in your congregation. If you feel this is the case, you may need to make minor adjustments or find another sermon
    Based on Joel reading: Pr Roger Atze
    Based on Isaiah reading: edited for lay reading Sermon – Isaiah 58 1-12 – Ash Wed
    Based on 2 Corinthians reading: edited for lay reading Sermon – 2 Corinthians 5 20b-6 10 – Year A – Ash Wed ; Pr Heath Pukallus
    Based on gospel reading: edited for lay reading Sermon – Matt 6 1-6 16-21 – Year B – Ash Wed
  • Orders of service:
    Ash Wednesday Word and Prayer (suitable for lay reading) ( pdf / doc / ppt )
    Ash Wednesday with Holy Communion (pdf / doc/ ppt)
  • Opening sentences:
    Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    rend your hearts and not your clothing.  (Joel 2:12,13a NRSV)OR
    Come back to the Lord, your God.
    He is kind and full of mercy;
    he is patient and keeps his promise;
    he is always ready to forgive and not punish.  (Joel 2:13b TEV)OR
    In the time of my favour I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.
    I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour,
    now is the day of salvation.  (2 Cor 6:2 NIV)
  • Prayer of the Day (Collect): included in above service orders or use one of the following
    Almighty and eternal God,
    since you hate nothing that you have made,
    but forgive the sins of all who repent:
    Create in us new and contrite hearts,
    that we, who lament our sins
    and acknowledge our wretchedness,
    may obtain from you perfect forgiveness;
    through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
    one God, now and forever.
    Amen.OR, alternative
    (Let us pray for God’s mercy. [silence])
    Lord God, heavenly Father,
    you desire to be merciful
    and are always more willing to pardon than condemn.
    Listen to the prayers of your penitent people,
    and in your goodness
    set free all who are trapped in sin.
    We ask this through your Son,
    Jesus Christ our Lord,
    who lives and reigns
    with you and the Holy Spirit,
    one God, now and forever.
    Amen.OR, new (based on traditional)
    (Let us pray for God’s mercy. [silence])
    Loving heavenly Father,
    you look in mercy on our weakness,
    and you forgive all who repent.
    Show us our sins,
    make us sorry for them,
    and create in us new and clean hearts.
    We ask this through your Son,
    Jesus Christ our Lord,
    who lives and reigns
    with you and the Holy Spirit,
    one God, now and forever.
  • Prayer of the Church/ General Prayer: Included in the service orders or use one of the following: Ash Wednesday A ; Responsive prayer
  • Offering prayer : included in the service order or use the following
    Merciful God,
    you gave your Son to take our sin.
    Lead us to give ourselves and what we have
    for your service.
    Help us to discipline ourselves,
    so that we may show your care
    to those in need.
  • Visual images for the day from His Word in PicturesMatt 6:3,4 ; Matt 6:6
  • Song/Hymn suggestions: * =  Modernised version available (please click here to go to the Modernised hymns page) ;G3, G4 . . . =  Guitar chords available in the Music Package 3, 4 . . .; GS =  Guitar chords in the Supplement to LH
    First reading (a): Joel 2:1,2,12-17

    192    Bowed low in supplication
    256    Not to us, O Lord, the glory G9
    302    Sinners, turn: why will you die? G7
    304    Delay not, delay not, O sinner, draw near G7
    309    Ah, Lord and God G5
    310    Out of the depths I cry to Thee* (alt tune 404, G9)
    313    With broken heart and contrite sigh
    316    Smite me not, O mighty God G4
    401    When in the hour of utmost need G3
    485    The day is surely drawing near* G5
    488    That day of wrath, that dreadful day
    850    O Father, my Father, I call on your name GS
    6    O Father, my Father
    11    Lord, have mercy
    238    Kyrie 1 (Taize)
    269    Create in us
    327    Sorry
    331    Turn to me with all your heart
    332    We are sorry
    354    Change my heart, O God
    379    Kyrie eleison (Ghana)
    392    Kyrie eleison (Russia)
    398    A child of God
    446    Mercy
    81    Out of the depths I cry to you
    463    May this Lenten discipline
    577    Come, let us to the Lord our God
    712    Create in us
    739    Kyrie eleison (Ghana)
    735    Kyrie (Taize)
    736    Kyrie eleison (Ukranian)First reading (b): Isaiah 58:1-12

    356    Lord of glory, who hast bought us* G3
    380    O God of mercy, God of might G9
    815    O Christ, the healer, we have come G6 (see also TIS 638)
    816    O Fount of good, for all your love G7
    817    O Jesus Christ, to you may hymns be rising G7
    819    Wake us, O Lord, to human need G9
    820    We thank you, God, for eyes to see GS
    850    O Father, my Father, I call on your name GS
    855    Brother, let me be your servant (mod- TIS 650)
    858    Make me a channel (see AT for guitar chords in E) (TIS 607)
    6    O Father, my Father, I call on your name
    95    Make me a channel of your peace
    191    The servant song
    300    Practise love
    301    Prayer of peace
    308    We are called to follow Jesus
    310    Yesu, Yesu, fill us with your love
    354    Change my heart, O God
    357    Give us hearts to know you, Lord
    373    Bound by love
    377    Heal me
    390    Put on love
    397    These I lay down
    398    A child of God
    402    God has chosen me
    414    Take this moment
    600   Jesus, the bright morning star
    607    Make me a channel of your peace
    618    What does the Lord require
    620    O Jesus Christ, may grateful hymns be rising
    638    O Christ, the healer, we have come
    640    Kneels at the feet of his friends
    650    Brother, sister, let me serve you
    657    God of freedom, God of justice
    690    Beauty for brokennessSecond reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

    48    Lamb of God most holy* G5
    52    O sacred head, now wounded* G6 (see also TIS 339)
    55 (pt 1)    O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken* G4 (mod TIS 337)
    57 (pt l)    A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth* G5
    58 (pt 1)    O world, see thy Life languish* G3 (see Mod TIS 338)
    59    Jesus, I will ponder now* G8
    60    Christ, the life of all the living G5
    70    Stricken, smitten, and afflicted* G3
    196    Look down, O Lord, from heaven behold
    198    Let us, O Father, never be confounded G6
    200    Thou little flock, be not dismayed
    305    Today Thy mercy calls us* G3
    331    My hope is built on nothing less* G5
    361    Let us ever walk with Jesus* G5
    407    If thou but suffer God to guide thee* G6 (mod TIS 554)
    857    Low, the way is low GS
    862    As we step from the edge of morning GS
    22    He was wounded
    84    I want Jesus to walk with me
    101    Jesus, please watch over us
    185    Jesus, Son of God and man
    190    The way is low
    215    My hiding place
    219    Then I will praise you, my Saviour, again
    235    In your hand, my Saviour
    261    The Servant King
    275    In our darkness
    278    Lord, hear our prayer
    281    Nothing can separate us from the love of God
    310    Yesu, Yesu, fill us with your love
    348    Sing hey for the carpenter
    358    Gift to the world
    372    Teach me your way
    384    If we will trust in God to guide us
    399    Holding out your hand
    401    Follow me
    439    Forgiven
    219    Jesus comes with all his grace
    256    From heaven you came, helpless babe (The Servant King)
    259    Among us and before us, Lord, you stand
    337    O dearest Jesus, why aren’t you acquitted
    338    See, world, your life suspended
    339    O sacred head sore wounded
    554    If we will trust in God to guide us
    640    Kneels at the feet of his friends
    693    Come as you areGospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

    119    Come down, O Love divine G9 (see TIS 398)
    132    Spirit of wisdom, turn our eyes (alt tune 245, G6)
    149    Jesus, priceless treasure* G3
    150    King of glory, now before Thee G6
    153    One thing needful: this one treasure G9
    178    Dearest Saviour, hear my promise G3
    756    O Lord, throughout these forty days G5
    757    On my heart imprint your image
    788    Lord, who left the highest heaven G8
    789    My Lord, you wore no royal crown G6
    848    With deep humility, O Lord G5 (holy communion)
    849    With holy joy my heart shall beat (alt tune 839, G7) (holy communion)
    899    O Lord, hear my prayer
    34    Seek ye first
    199    I know where I’m going
    274    In Jesus’ name
    282    O Lord, hear my prayer
    397    These I lay down (holy communion)
    413    The summons
    398    Come down, O Love divine
    476    As a chalice cast of gold
    741    O Lord, hear my prayer
    745    Seek ye first the kingdom of GodPSALM 51 – The Allegri Miserere
    In the 1960s, the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, under the direction of David Willcocks, recorded an English version of the Allegri Miserere, with Roy Goodman as the solo treble. If a recording of this piece can be obtained, or another recording in English, and the text of the psalm provided for the congregation to follow (from the old Book of Common Prayer), it provides a suitably meditative pause in the Ash Wednesday service.PSALM 51:1-17 – Versions for the congregation to sing
    TIS 32, Have mercy on me, O God, is a version of Psalm 51:1-4a,10-12,15; and TIS 31, Have mercy on us, living Lord, is a paraphrase of the whole psalm.Here are two metrical versions of Psalm 51:1-17 by David Schütz for the congregation to sing together. Since both versions are rather long, consider alternating verses between men and women or left and right sides of the church. If reproducing either of these versions, please put ‘Words (c) David Schütz’ at the beginning or the end of the psalm.Version 1. Tune: Aus tiefer Not (Luther) LH 310 Have mercy on me, O my God,
    according to your steadfast love;
    wipe my transgressions from your sight,
    according to your gen’rous grace.
    O wash me from iniquity,
    and cleanse me from the stain of sin;
    for I know my transgressions.I’ve sinned against you, Lord, alone,
    and done what’s evil in your sight,
    so you are right to sentence me,
    and blameless when you judge my sin.
    Indeed, a sinner I was born,
    but you seek truth within my heart;
    so make me know your wisdom.Purge me with hyssop, make me clean;
    O wash me, make me white as snow.
    Let me hear sounds of joy again;
    and give me gladness in my soul.
    O let the bones you crushed be healed
    and turn your face from all my sins,
    blot out all my transgressions.Create in me a clean heart, God,
    and let my spirit be renewed.
    Don’t cast me out, away from you,
    or take your spirit from my heart.
    Restore to me the joy I knew
    when first you saved me from my sin.
    Uphold me with your spirit.Then I will teach your way to those
    whose sin has brought them to despair;
    and I will teach them how you save,
    and then they will return to you.
    O rescue me, my saving God,
    from death, so that my heart will sing
    out loud of how you saved me.Open my lips, O Lord, and I
    will tell about your love to all.
    For you require no sacrifice;
    there’s nothing I could offer you.
    The sacrifice you ask of me,
    is but a broken, contrite heart.
    And this, I know, you’ll not despise.

    Version 2. Tune: Delay not LH 304

    Have mercy upon me, O God, in your love;
    blot out my transgressions, O merciful God;
    O wash me and cleanse me from all of my guilt,
    for I know my sin and I know what I’ve done.

    Against you, O Father, alone, I have sinned,
    and done what is evil, condemned by your law.
    I know that your judgment is righteous and true;
    I know I am guilty, that’s how I was born.

    But you look for truth in my innermost thoughts;
    so give me your wisdom deep down in my heart.
    Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean,
    and wash me and make me far whiter than snow.

    Let me hear your good news that I may be glad;
    and let me rejoice when my hurts have been healed.
    Don’t let your eyes rest on the sins I have done;
    blot out from your memory the things I’ve done wrong.

    Create a clean heart within me, O my God,
    and put a right spirit within me, O Lord.
    Don’t chase me away from your presence, I pray,
    and don’t take your life-giving spirit away.

    O Lord, be my Saviour, renew all my joy,
    sustain in me your willing spirit to serve;
    and then I will teach those who sin of your love,
    and they will return to you, just as I have.

    Deliver me, God, from the evil of death;
    and then I will praise you, O Saviour, and sing.
    Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare
    your praise now and ever, here and everywhere.

    You take no delight in the offerings we bring;
    there’s nothing you ask of us that we should give.
    There’s only one sacrifice that you accept:
    a heart that is sorry and ready for love.

    Music Resources Vol 3– Psalm settings: Psalm 51 p93 , Psalm 51 p94

While the LCA does not necessarily endorse the content of these websites, you may find them helpful in your worship planning.
Small Church Music: You can download mp3 and midi files of popular hymn tunes from this site.
Together to Celebrate: lectionary based song and hymn suggestions from a variety of sources.
Singing from the Lectionary: has song and hymn suggestions based on the RCL from other hymnals.
Song Select: you can search for more contemporary songs by theme. If your congregation has a paid subscription you can also download sheet music.
Hymns Without Words: mp3 downloads of hymn tunes.
Song and Hymn Index. Contains all the indexes of the LHS and AT books in one Excel file. Download the file (zip file) here.
Metrical Psalms by Dale Schoening : Psalms set to well known hymn tunes.
Keyboard Accompaniments for Together in Song – CDs are available for purchase through ACR. CD 1 & 2 ; CD 3 & 4.

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