from St Anne's

The Season of Lent at Belfast Cathedral

The Season of Lent

From an early stage in the life of the Church the season of Lent became firmly attached to Easter, the annual celebration of the occasion of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Easter was the principle time for baptism and for the reconciliation of those who had been excluded from the Church’s fellowship for apostasy or serious faults. This history defined the characteristic notes of Lent as self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter.

As candidates for baptism were instructed in Christian faith, and as penitents prepared themselves, through fasting and penance, to be readmitted to communion, the whole Christian community was invited to join them in the process of study and repentance, the extension of which over forty days would remind them of the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, being tested by Satan.

The liturgical colour during Lent is violet, although Lenten Array, which is unbleached linen, may also be used. The overall liturgical tone is reserved, sparse, with greater emphasis on silence and simplicity. Within the music of services during Lent, this is reflected in the practice of omitting the joyful refrain of ‘Alleluia’ and the traditional Eucharistic canticle Gloria in excelsis. This restraint makes for much more heightened expression of joyfulness when these are reintroduced on Easter Day.


This Wednesday 26th February, join us at Belfast Cathedral throughout the day to celebrate the Season of Lent.

This year, for Ash Wednesday on 26th February, there will be the opportunity to attend services and receive the imposition of ashes in Belfast Cathedral on any of the occasions throughout the day:

8.30am, Holy Communion (Order 2 – Prayer 1) in the Chapel of Unity

1.00pm, Holy Communion (Order 2 – Prayer 3) in the Chapel of Unity

5.30pm, Choral Eucharist in the Cathedral

During the 5.30pm Choral Eucharist the Cathedral choir will sing the much loved and intensely moving setting of Psalm 51 known by its Latin opening words of Miserere mei, Deus- Have mercy on me, O God- composed in Italy during the 17th century by Gregorio Allegri, and transcribed from memory by a 14 year old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40 day Season of Lent. For some this period of reflection is a time to give up something which distracts us from our journey of faith, from sweets or alcohol to a decision to criticise or complain less often. For others Lent is the opportunity to take something up by way of service to others or an additional time for prayer, reading or contemplation in a busy world.

Within the Cathedral’s Ash Wednesday services there is the option of receiving the imposition of ashes. This is entirely optional, according to personal preference, but is offered as a means of reflection upon mortality, frailty, personal sin and seeking the mercy and forgiveness of God. Ashes are an ancient sign of penitence, commonly referred to in the Bible. During the Middle Ages the custom developed that at the beginning of Lent, worshippers were marked in ash with the sign of the cross, hence the development of the name of the first day of Lent becoming Ash Wednesday.

At the beginning of the Ash Wednesday liturgy the president explains the meaning of Lent and invites the people to observe it faithfully, in these words:

Brothers and sisters in Christ, since early days Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord’s passion and resurrection and prepared for this by a season of penitence and fasting.

By carefully keeping these days, Christians take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and so grow in faith and in devotion to our Lord.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.

We look forwards to welcoming you to the Cathedral for Ash Wednesday.