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Ash Wednesday

From Rev. Jeremy Simons, Cathedral Chaplain
February 25, 2020

This Wednesday, February 26, is Ash Wednesday the beginning of Lent, the six-week period leading up to Easter. People all over will have a smudge of ash on their forehead, symbolizing the beginning of Lent with a day of prayer and fasting.
In the General Church, we do not usually observe Ash Wednesday or Lent, although we support its purpose. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial. For that matter, we do not observe most of the other Christian dates that are part of what is called the “liturgical year.”
The liturgical year, or Christian year, consists of the cycle of special days that are observed, such as All Saints, Christ the King, Advent, Christmas, Baptism of our Lord, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost or Whitsunday, and Holy Trinity Sunday. It also defines which portions of Scripture are to be read either in an annual cycle or in a cycle of several years. It varies among different denominations and often includes other special days that you may or may not have heard of.
The founders of the General Church, such as W.F. Pendleton, took a special interest in basing the form of General Church worship, including the calendar, on things specifically taught in the Word. They dropped many customs and practices that were familiar to them but which they did not see as solidly based in Divine revelation. In 1919, W.F. Pendleton wrote in New Church Life:

“Shall we have a Calendar or course for the Christian year? …Shall we extend it so as to include Epiphany, Lent, Whitsunday, and other similar days? It would not be possible or desirable for us to adopt the entire Christian year as it stands…. We have a day that is peculiarly our own, the Nineteenth of June, and it should have an essential place in a new Christian Calendar.”

In 1909 F. E. Waelchli, in his report in New Church Life on the new liturgy then being introduced, described Bishop Pendleton’s views on the Christian calendar:

“He had studied the subject of the Christian Year, and found that he could not satisfactorily use it as a basis for the services. He did not feel at all inclined to use the terms Epiphany, Lent, and the like, as they bring with them too much of an Old Church sphere.”

I don’t know whether there was resistance to these changes at the beginning of the General Church, but with the passage of time the old ways have been forgotten, and many General Church members don’t even know what a liturgical calendar is or what the old names refer to. All of it, though, is part of the General Church’s emphasis on what the Writings teach as the only authority in the church.
Ash Wednesday, Lent, and other traditions at this time of year, such as Passover, are important to many people and can add beautiful and useful points of emphasis to the time leading up to Easter.

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