Ash Wednesday: 22 February 2012
To teach the children how the name Ash Wednesday came about and to explore its significance.
by Ronni Lamont
Suitable for Key Stage 2
To explore the significance of Ash Wednesday and how the name came about.
Preparation and materials
- A paste made from ash. To make this, you need ash – any sort of finely powdered ash. Strictly speaking, this should be from the palm crosses from the previous Good Friday. A local church may let you have some, or contact a specialist religious supplier. Otherwise, you could make ash in a controlled fire – say in a waste bin – outside. Use old paper and then pulverize the ashes. Then make a paste from the ash (using olive oil not water). It can be very runny, like powder paint. You need only a very small amount.
- A palm cross – again, perhaps ask your local church.
- A bag of sugar and a lemon.
- Produce the sugar and lemon and ask what favourite food these traditionally go on (pancakes).
When do we eat pancakes? (Shrove Tuesday)
Why is this day called Shrove Tuesday? Because people used to go to church on that day to be ‘shriven’. This old word means confessing to a priest or vicar the things you’ve done wrong and being told by him that you’re forgiven by God.
After the people had confessed all the things they knew they had done wrong and the priest had told them of God’s forgiveness and blessed them, they went home, and made pancakes to use up the eggs in the house, ready for . . .
- Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday. Ask if anyone knows why it’s called that. Produce the ash, and explain that Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent – six weeks of preparing for Easter. Lent is a fast – a time of eating less well, and praying more.
It’s also a time of thinking about all the things that human beings get wrong. People still go to church on Ash Wednesday to be ‘ashed’. Explain that this is an ancient custom, a way of ‘acting out’ how sorry we are that we do wrong things and our resolve to change.
- Ask a child (whose religious tradition is compatible with what is to come – and with no fringe!) to come up to the front. Dip your thumb into the ash solution and make the sign of the cross on his or her forehead. The words to accompany this action, which you can choose whether or not to use, are:
‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.’
If you do use the words, make sure that you pick the sort of child who isn’t going to be fazed by these weird words! Let everyone have a look at the child’s ash mark as he or she returns to his or her place.
Time for reflection
Tell the children that there will be a few minutes of silence. Ask the children to think about the things they do that they know are wrong. Say you will then say a short prayer. Tell the children that when you say, ‘I’m sorry’, they are to repeat out loud, ‘I’m sorry.’
For all the things that I do that I know I shouldn’t,
‘Go, tell it on the mountain’ (Come and Praise, 24)