Ash Wednesday Preparing Your Group to Start Lent

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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 6, 2019


This Sunday'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)

Teach younger children about the season of Lent and help them understand why and how we make our Lenten promises. 

Materials Needed

  • none

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Say: Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the first day of Lent, when we prepare ourselves to celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection. To prepare ourselves for Easter, we participate in three important activities.
  2. Hold out your arms in a gesture of giving and invite children to do the same. Say: Almsgiving, or giving alms, is helping people who are in need. We help by giving what we can. We also help with our time and talents.
  3. Place your hands together in prayer and invite children to do the same. Say: Prayer is another activity we do during Lent. We might pray an extra prayer each day during this season.
  4. Put your hand over your heart and invite children to do the same. Say: Fasting is showing our love for God by giving up something. During Lent, we don’t eat meat on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays. We might give up something else to show God we are preparing for Jesus’ Resurrection. We might give up saying unkind things about others or teasing our brothers and sisters. These are ways in which we learn to love God more.
  5. Let’s listen to today’s Gospel and hear what Jesus says about these three activities. When you hear each one, make the gesture I just taught you.
  6. Read today’s Gospel, Matthew 6:1–6; 6:16–18.
  7. Say: Jesus says that we don’t do these three things to show off. We do them joyfully and in secret because we love God. God sees us and knows what is in our hearts.
  8. Encourage children to talk with their families about how they might give alms, pray, and fast this Lent.
  9. Remind children of the three gestures. Say: Let’s tell God how we will show our love for him and prepare ourselves for Jesus’ Resurrection during Lent. Make the gestures as you say or sing together: We will give with joy! We will pray with joy! We will fast with joy!


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.