06 March 2019

‘For where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also’

Burning Palm Crosses from Palm Sunday in the Rectory in Askeaton to prepare ashes for Ash Wednesday (Photograph: Barbara Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Wednesday 6 March 2019, Ash Wednesday

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

8 p.m.
: The Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), with ashing.

Readings: Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51: 1-18; II Corinthians 5: 20b to 6: 10; Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

It is striking how often in the Bible encounters with God take place on a mountain top: Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, the Mount of Olives, Calvary and the Ascension from the Mount called Olivet.

On Sunday [3 March 2019], in our Gospel reading, we heard the story of the Transfiguration, where Christ is presented on a high mountain as the Father’s beloved Son, and placed on either side of him are Moses and Elijah – for Christ is truly the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, of all of God’s promises.

In the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday, we meet Christ as we listen to his Sermon on the Mount.

And there is a link between this mountain-side sermon and the Transfiguration.

As I was saying on Sunday here and in Tarbert, the Transfiguration presents an opportunity not only for us to Christ as he truly is – the incarnate, living God; but also an opportunity for us to be reminded of how God sees us – made in his image and likeness.

The first reading the Sunday before reminded us that when God made us, God made us from the earth, but also that God made us in God’s own image and likeness. What a compliment.

Then, at Christmas, God takes on our image and likeness. God in Christ does not just look like us, Christ is truly one of us, both God and flesh. Again, what a compliment.

On Calvary, Christ shows he is truly flesh. It is not that he appears to die. He dies. He truly is like us, is one of us. Again, what a compliment.

In the Resurrection, we are called to be what we are truly made to be – to be restored so that once again we are in God’s image and likeness. And once again, what a compliment.

So Lent is an opportunity to look back on who we are, and to look forward to who we are truly called to be: made in God’s image and likeness, and restored to God’s image and likeness.

One way of reminding us of this is to read this Gospel reading reminding us to pray, fast, to do good, to give alms, to seek our rewards in pursuing the values of the Kingdom of God.

This Gospel reading can be understood when it is read within the context of the full Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes.

To be like Christ is to what he asks us to do.

A second way of reminding us of how we are made in God’s image and likeness, and how we are to be restored to God’s image and likeness, is the tradition of using ashes on Ash Wednesday.

You may remember our first reading (Genesis 2: 4b-9, 15-25) the Sunday before last [24 February 2019], when we were reminded in the creation story that we are created from the soil of the earth – the Hebrew name adam means ‘from the dust of the ground.’

It is a Biblical paradox that we are both made from the earth and yet are made in God’s image and likeness. We are made from the soil, yet in Saint John’s understanding of the cosmos all creation also dwells within God’s womb.

Our ashes this evening call us back to our beginnings, so that we can look forward to our glory in the Risen Christ at Easter. We are made of the earth, yet we are made in God’s image and likeness.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Crucifixion and the Harrowing of Hell, depicted in a chapel in Saint John’s Monastery, Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21:

[Jesus said:] 1 ‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5 ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

16 ‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’

A window ledge in the chapel in Dr Miley’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Violet (Purple).

The Gathering:

The traditional Ash Wednesday invitation or exhortation in the Book of Common Prayer begins:

‘Brothers and sisters in Christ: since early days Christians have observed with great 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 this season of Lent was observed by those who were preparing for baptism at Easter and by those who were to be restored to the Church’s fellowship from which they had been separated through sin. In course of time the Church came to recognize that, by a careful keeping of these days, 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 our Lord.

‘I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Lord to observe a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.’

Silence may be kept.

Then the priest says:

Let us pray for grace to keep Lent faithfully.

Almighty and everlasting God
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent.
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we may be truly sorry for our sins
and obtain from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer suggests that at the Confession and the Commandments may be read (and should be read during Advent and Lent), but neither the Beatitudes nor the Summary of the Law is used at the Ash Wednesday service. The Book of Common Prayer suggests ‘there should be two readers if possible, one reading the Old Testament statement and the second the New Testament interpretation’:

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ says:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like it.
You shall love your neighbour as yourself
On these two commandments depend all the law
and the prophets. (Matthew 22: 37-39)

Lord, have mercy on us,
and write these your laws in our hearts.

Penitential Kyries:

In the wilderness we find your grace:
you love us with an everlasting love.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

There is none but you to uphold our cause;
our sin cries out and our guilt is great.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed;
Restore us and we shall know your joy.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Book of Common Prayer (pp 340-341) also provides this form of Confession and Absolution:

After The Litany Two (pp 175-178), silence is kept for a time, after which is said:

Make our hearts clean, O God,
and renew a right spirit within us.

Father eternal, giver of light and grace,
we have sinned against you and against our neighbour,
in what we have thought, in what we have said and done,
through ignorance, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.
We have wounded your love, and marred your image in us.
We are sorry and ashamed, and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us,
forgive us all that is past;
and lead us out from darkness to walk as children of light. Amen.

This prayer is said:

God our Father,
the strength of all who put their trust in you,
mercifully accept our prayers;
and because, in our weakness,
we can do nothing good without you,
grant us the help of your grace,
that in keeping your commandments
we may please you, both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


The priest pronounces the Absolution:

Almighty God,
who forgives all who truly repent,
have mercy upon you,
pardon and deliver you from all your sins,
confirm and strengthen you in all goodness
and keep you in life eternal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The canticle Gloria in Excelsis may be omitted in Advent and Lent and on weekdays that are not holy days. Other versions of this canticle may be used, or when appropriate another suitable hymn of praise.

The invitation to Communion:

The invitation to Communion begins:

Most merciful Lord,
your love compels us to come in.
Our hands were unclean, our hearts were unprepared;
we were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under your table.
But you, Lord, are the God of our salvation,
and share your bread with sinners.
So cleanse and feed us with the precious body and blood of your Son,
That he may live in us and we in him;
and that we, with the whole company of Christ,
may sit and eat in your kingdom. Amen.

This prayer may be used in place of the Prayer of Humble Access (see p 342). As such it comes before the Peace and not as part of the Invitation to Communion (the Church of England usage).

Introduction to the Peace:

Being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5: 1, 2)


Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who was in every way tempted as we are yet did not sin;
by whose grace we are able to overcome all our temptations:

Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
you have given your only Son to be for us
both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly life:
Give us grace
that we may always most thankfully receive
these his inestimable gifts,
and also daily endeavour ourselves
to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Christ give you grace to grow in holiness,
to deny yourselves,
and to take up your cross and follow him;
and the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be with you, and remain with you always. Amen.


535: Judge eternal, throned in splendour.
586: Just as I am, thine own to be.

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Crucifix on the Nave Altar in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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