Ash Wednesday is traditionally an important church festival, yet I’ve never been to an Ash Wednesday service as most of the local ones are in working hours. The idea of imposition of ashes (the priest uses ash to mark a cross on one’s forehead) makes me very uneasy. So I ask myself why. As Jane Redmont writes in a piece in The Witness
Many of us are reluctant to lament in public and to do so with the force of religious language. To do so with specificity, naming the causes of our lament – intimate and personal but more often social, economic, local, regional, planetary, political – is especially difficult. Personal inhibition, perhaps – we are not just numb to others’ grief but sometimes to our own. Or perhaps we and our religion are too polite. Or we have bad memories of Christians being offensively public (like the hypocrites of Matthew’s Gospel) or of Christians calling for repentance in ways that deny the holiness of the body and of sexual desire.
Yet lament we must.
My parish priest suggests that "rather than giving things up" for Lent, we might "take things on" during Lent; perhaps some particular service to others, or special period of study and prayer. I like the idea.