In the focus on trying to get an updated compilation of links to Lent devotional sites and resources, I never got a chance to excerpt or link two reflections by Anglican pastors and bloggers which I found helpful. Both articles speak to the tension between the Reformed and Catholic heritage within Anglicanism in regard to the observance of Lent.
From Andrew Symes at Anglican Mainstream: Lent: Living the Gospel
I’m taking a risk in talking about Ash Wednesday and Lent. Some of my friends will regard me as deeply suspect. The next thing they know I might be caught lighting a candle, wearing a flash of purple over my surplice or, heaven forbid, putting ash on someone’s forehead.
I grew up in a low church environment deeply suspicious of symbols, and anything which might suggest that the symbol itself is worshipped or taken as an end in itself. But I’ve also seen the other side: high churches in other parts of the world crammed on Ash Wednesday, full of superstitious people desperate to get the mark of ash but with no understanding of repentance or intention of doing it even if they did.
Lent and its trappings can be misunderstood, but the true message of Lent is a really good corrective to the many wrong understandings of the Gospel that have been common over the years. The idea, first, of somehow atoning for my own sins by my penance, shown in the medieval excesses of self flagellation and crawling over sharp cobblestones but with its echoes in the contemporary examples of self denial (eg giving up chocolate) which have nothing to do with God or Christ. But as a reaction, the much more common idea today that talk of sin, repentance and self mortification is seen as at best quaint and at worst Pharisaism, judgmentalism and a dangerous purveyor of low self-esteem.
From Fr. Lee Nelson at the Anglican Pastor blog: Anglican Ash Wednesday: Catholic or Reformed? This is a short article tracing a bit of the development of the Ash Wednesday liturgy from Cranmer in 1548 to the present day.
I want to take you back with me to the year 1548. It is the year before the very first Book of Common Prayer, and it is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. For many centuries you and your family have come into the church the day before to have your confession heard, and on this day, you have come to receive ashes on the forehead, but on this day no such ashes would be given.
In fact that year, there were no candles on Candlemass, no palms on Palm Sunday, no veneration of the Cross on Good Friday. As the historian Eamon Duffy recounts, “the entire edifice of Catholic culture and liturgy was being dismantled in England.” Now, we must say in fairness to the reformers, and here specifically Cranmer, that they had their reasons. They found no such customs in the ancient Church. In fact, what they found was hard, taxing penance – punishment inflicted on sinners by an authoritative Church.