Sunday Connection

Sunday Connection

Sunday Connection

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Sunday Scripture readings. The Sunday Connection provides useful background and activities to better understand the upcoming Sunday's Scripture readings, helping you to connect the Scripture to daily life in a meaningful way.


Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


Today's Readings


First Reading
Joel 2:12-18
Return to the Lord for he is merciful.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 51:3-6b,12-14,17
Create a clean heart in us, O God, and be merciful.

Second Reading
2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2
Be reconciled to God; now is the day of salvation.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
Jesus teaches that almsgiving, prayer, and fasting should be done in secret.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Today we celebrate Ash Wednesday, the first day of the liturgical season of Lent. In this season, we prepare ourselves to celebrate the high point of our Christian life, Easter. Each year, the readings for Ash Wednesday are the same. They call us to a change of heart and teach us about the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These disciplines are to be part of the Christian life during every season, but during the season of Lent, we renew our commitment to them.

The meaning behind tracing a cross on our foreheads with ashes (the liturgical sign of Ash Wednesday) is a summary of our Christian life. On one level, the ashes remind us of our origin and our death. (In the words of the prayer said when we receive ashes: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”) The ashes are also the sign of our victory: the cross of Christ. In his death and resurrection, Christ conquered death. Our destiny as Christians is to receive the victory over death that Christ won for us. We acknowledge that victory when we “[t]urn away from sin and [are] faithful to the gospel,” words from the alternative prayer when we are signed with ashes.

Today's reading is part of the Sermon on the Mount. In the sermon, Jesus warns his followers against acting for the sake of appearance. When Jesus' disciples give alms, pray, and fast, they are to do so in such a way that only God, who sees the heart and knows what is hidden, will know. Although our Lectionary reading omits the Lord's Prayer, we can recall that Matthew presents that prayer as a model for the disciples' prayer (Matthew 6:9-15). 


Gospel Reading
Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
Jesus teaches that almsgiving, prayer, and fasting should be done in secret.


Making the Connection (Grades 1, 2, and 3)

In today's Gospel we hear Jesus' instruction on how his followers are to pray, fast, and give alms. We can invite even young children to participate in our Church community's preparation for Easter by their acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Materials Needed

  • Drawing paper and crayons

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Say: Today we begin a new season in our Church year. This season is called Lent. During Lent we do some special things as a Church community. Jesus taught us about these things in the Gospel. These things help us get ready to celebrate Jesus' Resurrection in the feast of Easter. As I read today's Gospel, listen for the three things that Jesus teaches.

  2. Read aloud today's Gospel, Matthew 6:1-6,16-18.

  3. Say: Jesus taught about three things in today's Gospel. Let's see whether we can name them. Help the group to identify almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.

  4. Say: The first thing Jesus teaches about is almsgiving. Almsgiving is one way in which we share what we have with people in need. Sometimes we give money to help people who are poor; sometimes we make donations, such as food and clothing. What does Jesus say about almsgiving? (It should be done in secret.) Explain that Jesus means we shouldn't give alms so that other people will notice.

  5. Say: The second thing Jesus teaches about is prayer. We know that Jesus wants us to pray. What does Jesus say about prayer in today's reading? (It should not be done for show; it should be done in secret.)

  6. Say: The third thing Jesus teaches about is fasting. Fasting means “giving up something” to remind ourselves that we need God. During Lent we fast from certain foods, such as meat or desserts. We might also fast from things that we enjoy, such as TV, to show that God is more important than any of those things. What did Jesus teach about fasting? (It should be done cheerfully. Only God should know that a person is fasting.)

  7. Say: During Lent, the entire Church community promises to fast, pray, and give alms to prepare ourselves to celebrate Easter. When we do those things, we grow closer to God.

  8. Say: Spend some quiet time thinking about one thing you might do during Lent to prepare for Easter. When you have thought of something, you can draw a picture of yourself doing that activity as a sign of your promise to grow closer to God. Distribute drawing paper and crayons and give the children time to complete a picture.

  9. Conclude in prayer together by asking God to bless your Lenten promises. Pray together the Lord's Prayer.


Gospel Reading
Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
Jesus teaches that almsgiving, prayer, and fasting should be done in secret.


Making the Connection (Grades 4, 5, and 6)

In our society, it is countercultural to think about making serious sacrifices. Yet today's Gospel and the season of Lent tell us that “giving up” things is an essential part of the Christian life. As a Church community, we prepare ourselves for Easter by giving alms, praying, and fasting.

Materials Needed

  • A piece of stationery and a pen or pencil for each person

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Say: Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that begins a new season in our Church year. Does anyone know what season that is? (Lent) Lent is a very special time during which we prepare ourselves to celebrate Jesus' Resurrection. What is the name of the feast we're preparing to celebrate? (Easter) To prepare ourselves for Easter, we participate in three important activities. Listen to today's Gospel now to find out what the activities are.

  2. Invite three volunteers to read today's Gospel. Volunteer 1 reads Matthew 6:1-4; volunteer 2 reads Matthew 6:5-6; volunteer 3 reads Matthew 6:16-18.

  3. Ask: What three activities did Jesus talk about in today's reading? (almsgiving, prayer, fasting)

  4. Say: The first activity that Jesus talks about is almsgiving. What is almsgiving? (Be sure that the group is able to identify almsgiving as caring for people who are poor.) What does Jesus caution against in almsgiving? (seeking recognition for charitable acts) What are some examples of how we give alms today? (Help the group to identify concrete actions that are possible in your parish or community, such as contributions to the poor box or a food pantry, Operation Rice Bowl, and so on.)

  5. Say: The second activity Jesus talks about is prayer. This one seems easy to understand. What does Jesus say we should not do when we pray? (pray for the sake of appearances) During Lent, we are asked to make a special effort to have a life of prayer and to improve our prayer lives.

  6. Say: The third activity Jesus talks about is fasting or giving up something. What kind of fasting is Jesus talking about? (fasting from food) During Lent, we choose to give up certain kinds of food. We don't eat meat on Ash Wednesday or on Fridays during Lent, for example. We are also asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Lent is a good time to fast from habits that we would like to change too, such as gossiping.

  7. Say: Jesus reminds us that whenever we give alms, pray, or fast, we should do so cheerfully and without making a show of our behavior. Today I'm inviting you to write a letter to God, making your Lenten promises about almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. You might choose to name one action in each area that you promise to do during this Lent. Only you and God will know what you write. Let's spend some quiet time to work on this now.

  8. Play some quiet background music as the children write their letters to God. When everyone is finished, pray Psalm 51 together.


Gospel Reading
Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
Jesus teaches that almsgiving, prayer, and fasting should be done in secret.


Making the Connection (Grades 7 and 8)

Young people at this age often have busy, cluttered lives. Lent is a time to help them remove some of the clutter that gets in the way of receiving God's grace.

Materials Needed

  • Paper plates
  • Paper cups
  • Plastic utensils
  • Foam ball

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Select four or five young people and hand each of them enough paper plates, paper cups, and plastic utensils (or anything else that is unbreakable and lightweight) so that their hands are full.

  2. Then bring out a foam ball and begin playing catch with the entire group, randomly throwing the ball to various young people, including those with full hands.

  3. Observe how they attempt to catch the ball with their hands full.

  4. After a number of tosses, point out how difficult it is to catch the ball if our hands are full.

  5. Explain that, similarly, it is difficult for us to receive God's grace if we are holding on to too many things in our lives.

  6. Point out that the season of Lent challenges us to let go of anything that is getting in the way of us receiving God's grace.

  7. Say: The Gospel for Ash Wednesday highlights what we really need to focus on in order to open ourselves up to God's grace during Lent.

  8. Invite volunteers to read aloud Matthew 6:1-6,16-18.

  9. Ask: What three activities did Jesus talk about in today's reading? (almsgiving, prayer, fasting)

  10. Say: The third activity Jesus talks about is fasting, or giving up something. During Lent, we choose to give up certain foods or habits that get in the way of our ability to receive God's grace.

  11. Brainstorm as a group the kinds of habits that young people can fast from during Lent (Examples: gossiping, spending too much time on the Internet, text-messaging)

  12. End this time together by praying the psalm for this day, Psalm 51.


Gospel Reading
Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
Jesus teaches that almsgiving, prayer, and fasting should be done in secret.


Family Connection

The season of Lent presents families with an opportunity to examine our family life and to re-commit ourselves to the Christian practices of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Each of us is invited to do these things as individuals, but we can also do one or more actions as a family. Ash Wednesday is a good time for families to pray together and to plan the family's Lenten practices.

Gather as a family and read today's Gospel, Matthew 6:1-6,16-18. Remind yourselves that Jesus expected that his disciples would give alms, pray, and fast and that he gave instructions that when we do those things, they should not be done for show. Determine one way that your family will give alms during Lent to share what you have with people in need. Decide upon one way that your family will pray together during Lent and choose one thing that your family will give up during Lent as a reminder of your love for God. Agree to encourage one another in whatever Lenten promises each has made individually. Pray together that God will bless your family's Lenten promises by praying together today's psalm, Psalm 51, and/or praying the Lord's Prayer.