This week, we observed Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent. Father John Browne, our School Chaplain, led our Service of Ashes which marks the start of our forty day period of preparation for the celebration of Easter.
According to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Christ spent forty days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation. In the early Church, Lent originated as a mirroring of this, with fasting for forty days as preparation for Easter. Every Sunday was seen as a commemoration of the Sunday of Christ's resurrection and so as a feast day on which fasting was inappropriate. Therefore, Christians fasted for six days each week, from Monday to Saturday for six weeks, and from Wednesday to Saturday (four days) in the final week before Easter, thus making up the number of forty days.
In order to prepare for this fasting, all of the richer, more luxurious ingredients were used up the night before Ash Wednesday – the eggs and flour and sugar were typically used to make pancakes the day before Lent began, this being known as Shrove Tuesday and a day upon which many cultures hold vibrant ‘Mardi Gras’ (literally, ‘Fat Tuesday’) celebrations to conclude their carnival periods (‘Carnevale’ being from the Latin words ‘carne’ – ‘meat’ and ‘vale’ – ‘farewell’, so literally a ‘farewell to meat’).
On the next day, Ash Wednesday, palm branches blessed on the previous year's Palm Sunday were – and indeed still today are - made into ashes. The ashes are used to form the Sign of the Cross on the foreheads of those participating in the services. As the Sign of the Cross is made, the priest says the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return", encouraging us to begin a period of reflection about our spiritual life – the condition of our soul – which will live on after our bodies.
Lent as a whole then is a time for Christians to stop and reflect on the attitudes of their hearts, their priorities and their spiritual life as they prepare for Easter. In the Early Church, there were also strict Lenten laws to help with this ‘spiritual spring clean’ and most people fasted. Nowadays, many Christians still consider it helpful to give something up during Lent as a reminder of the sacrifices Jesus made and the temptations he resisted during his time in the desert.
In our service this week, we asked for God’s help to turn away from sin and make a new start. We recognised that God loves us even with our faults and failings, and we prayed for forgiveness and strength in our lives to come back to a place where we belong – to the heart of God. With thanks to our Chaplain for leading us in this service.
On a different note, this week’s Eisteddfod drew to the fore our community’s pride in our Welsh culture. Numerous homework competitions have been running for some time now for all pupils in key stage three, their entries being of an exceptionally high standard this year. The stage competition was as varied and interesting as ever, with musical items ranging from rap to cello solos. The poetry recitations were most impressive and the event as a whole was extremely enjoyable for all participants. We look forward to sharing photographs of this event in our Easter edition of the school newsletter.