Hopeful Ash Wednesday Prayers to Remind Us of the Beauty of the Cross

ash Wednesday ashes in shape of cross on table

Hopeful Ash Wednesday Prayers to Remind Us of the Beauty of the Cross

What exactly is Ash Wednesday? Do we commemorate this holiday with an Ash Wednesday prayer or do Christians follow other traditions?

Ash Wednesday, it has seemed, has sneaked up on us quickly this year. It seemed like just yesterday we ushered in the New Year, and in a couple of weeks, we will begin the season of Lent, which kicks off during Ash Wednesday. But what exactly is Ash Wednesday? Do we commemorate this holiday with an Ash Wednesday prayer or do Christians follow other traditions?

In this article, we’ll dive into the origin of Ash Wednesday and why Christians celebrate this holiday. We’ll also provide some beautiful Scriptures to reflect on the wonder of the Lent season, which leads up to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

What Is Ash Wednesday? – History and Meaning

Ash Wednesday has not existed since the beginning of the church. Because the church experienced persecution for the first few centuries, under the strict rule of the Romans, they did not have much time to dedicate to creating traditions for the church calendar.

According to Kelly Givens at Christianity.com, “The history and beginnings of Lent aren’t clear. According to Britannica.com, Lent has likely been observed: “since apostolic times, though the practice was not formalized until the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.” Christian scholars note that Lent became more regularized after the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313. St. Irenaeus, Pope St. Victor I, and St. Athanasius all seem to have written about Lent during their ministries. Most agree that “by the end of the fourth century, the 40-day period of Easter preparation known as Lent existed, and that prayer and fasting constituted its primary spiritual exercises.”

No matter when the tradition started, we can point to several usages of ashes in the Bible (more on this in a moment).

As for the holiday itself, Ash Wednesday always falls on the day after Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras in the calendar year. It is a solemn day of reflection to kick of the Lent season. During the 40 days of Lent (give or take a few days), we remember when Jesus experienced temptation in the desert and resisted the devil (Matthew 4). We also remember that at the end of the 40 days, we enter Holy Week. During Holy Week, Jesus entered Jerusalem, was tried, crucified, buried ... and on Easter Sunday, he resurrected

Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are but dust and that we need a Savior to rescue us from our sins.

What Does the Bible Say about Ashes? Ash Wednesday Prayer in Scripture

Ashes and dust appear in the Bible many times. Let’s analyze a few of the verses below.

Job 42:6: “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Ashes can often represent repentance in the Bible.

Numbers 19:17: “For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and fresh water shall be added in a vessel.”

The sprinkling of ashes can also make something once unclean into something clean. In the same way, Jesus cleanses us of our sins.

Isaiah 61:3: “To grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”

Ashes can also signify mourning. Even though we celebrate the ultimate resurrection of Christ, we should mourn the great cost of sin. That our Lord and Savior suffered so brutally in order for us to receive salvation.

Often a priest or pastor will also quote this verse during an Ash Wednesday service:

Genesis 3:19: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

This reminds us that we cannot attain salvation alone. Death comes to all, but a second death doesn’t have to.

How Do We Celebrate Ash Wednesday?

How do Christians celebrate Ash Wednesday? It entirely depends on the congregation. Some denominations don’t dedicate a day or sermon to this holiday.

Others will put an ash cross on the foreheads of the congregation and recite the latter half of Genesis 3:19. For those who participate in the more liturgical side of Lent, people may fast on Ash Wednesday as well as starting on Ash Wednesday, they will often give up something such as sugar, social media, etc.

Other churches may simply read a passage of Scripture, pray a prayer for Ash Wednesday, or send a devotional to the congregation about Ash Wednesday.

There is no “right” way to celebrate Ash Wednesday. After all, the holiday didn’t exist in the original church calendar, and there’s no correct way to prepare our hearts for the Lent season. Nevertheless, Christians can ready themselves for this season through prayer. Please feel free to deviate from the prayer presented. It serves as a template, but feel free to pray for the heart as you feel led.

Hopeful Ash Wednesday Prayers to Prepare Our Hearts for Lent

Heavenly Father, as I reflect during Ash Wednesday and the upcoming Lent season, I am reminded that I am but dust. I can do nothing apart from you. I admire the example you set in the desert and how you resisted the temptation of the devil. As we approach Holy Week, may I remember the great sacrifice it took to rescue me from my sins. Although ashes represent mourning and repentance, they also represent cleanliness. Remind me how you have cleansed me from my impurities and have given me new life through you. I can never thank you enough. Amen.

As suggested by Kelly Givens in her article A Beautiful Prayer for Ash Wednesday, I have also included Psalm 51 as a prayer for Ash Wednesday below.

Psalm 51: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.”

Further Reading

A Beautiful Prayer for Ash Wednesday

An Ash Wednesday Prayer to Remember God’s Merciful Love

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/czarny_bez

headshot of author Hope BolingerHope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, literary agent at C.Y.L.E., and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,000 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in October of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.