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'Lord, have mercy': A Lent assembly (Ash Wednesday)

To consider the Ash Wednesday and Lent themes of sin and forgiveness.

by Manon Ceridwen Parry

Suitable for Key Stage 2


To consider the Ash Wednesday and Lent themes of sin and forgiveness.

Preparation and materials

  • Lent lasts for 40 days (excluding Sundays) and is when Christians remember the 40 days spent by Jesus in the wilderness at the start of his ministry. During this time he went without food and was tempted by Satan.
  • Some symbols to do with Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Lent, for example, pancakes, a cross, ash – whatever you have to hand.
  • For the ‘Time for reflection’, a musical version of a Kyrie from a Mass (I used the Kyrie from Fauré’s Requiem).


  1. Explain a little about Lent and its background, showing some of your Lent symbols, and getting the children to tell you what they already know.

    Discuss our custom of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. This arose because during Lent people used to fast (eat very little food, and certainly no rich food). On the day before Lent, therefore, they would make pancakes to use up their supplies of eggs (once considered a luxury food), sugar, fat and flour. Even today many people give up certain foods during Lent.

    Explain that the first day of Lent is known as ‘Ash Wednesday’. It is given this name because on this day Christians meet together in church services, and as a sign of their sorrow for the wrong things they have done, the shape of a cross is marked in ash on their foreheads.
  2. Discuss the purpose of Lent: it is a season of penitence – explain that this means being sorry for the wrong things we have done, saying sorry to God, and resolving to change, with God’s help.

    During the season of Lent many Christians find space to think about the wrong things they do. Sometimes they act out their sorrow and resolve to change by giving up certain treats (for example, chocolate or crisps), by giving more money to charity and by praying more.
  3. Although we feel sad when we think about what we get wrong, and the mistakes we make (called ‘sin’ in churchy language), actually, Christians feel some joy on Ash Wednesday and during Lent because it’s good to know that when we turn to God, and say sorry, God accepts us as we are and gives us a new start. He forgives us, in other words.

    We all need time and space to think about our lives. Lent gives us a chance to do this. The resolves we make in Lent are a bit like the resolutions we make on New Year’s Day.
  4. However, asking God for forgiveness is something we can do any time. In a Communion service, for example, there is a part of the service where we say sorry (called ‘the Confession’) and sometimes we say the words, ‘Lord, have mercy.’ (You may like to suggest that the children repeat these words.) They are a translation of the Greek phrase Kyrie eleison. (You may even like to get the children to say that!)
  5. Over many years, composers have set the words, ‘Lord, have mercy’/Kyrie eleison to music, usually as part of longer musical settings of Communion services.

    Explain that you are going to play one setting of Kyrie eleison.

    Music can express how we feel. What kind of music are you about to play – will it be jolly, or quiet, or sad? Explore with the children their ideas about the kind of music they would use for ‘Lord, have mercy.’

    Remind the children that you have already said that there is some joy in Lent, and so they will probably describe positive as well as negative emotions – this is a good opportunity to explore the ambivalent feelings associated with Lent. However, point out that normally the Kyrie can be quite powerful and sad).

Time for reflection

Ask the children to quieten themselves and close their eyes.

Ask them to think about what they are sorry to God for.

Tell them that we will be using these next few minutes to talk quietly to God.

Play the music for a few minutes.

Finish off by saying an absolution:

May the God of love
bring us back to himself,
forgive us our sins,
and assure us of his eternal love;
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Explain that these words remind us that God forgives us when we say sorry. So now, we have a new start!


‘I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield’ (Come and Praise, 142)

Publication date: February 2013   (Vol.15 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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