Thursday after Ash Wednesday


Isaiah 38:1–6 

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the Lord: “Remember now, O Lord, I implore you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of your ancestor David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and defend this city.


Matthew 8:5–13

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one[a] in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour. 


img_7773O God, Who is offended by sin, and pacified with our Penance, mercifully hear our prayers of supplication, we humbly beseech You to keep at bay the punishments of your anger, which we deserve for the sins we commit daily. Forgive our weekness and allow us to emulate the sacrifice of Your son Jesus Christ Our Saviour and Lord, etc. 


The first references to a pre-Easter period date back to the beginning of the IV century in the East and at the end of the same in the West. A penitential praxis of preparation for Easter with fasting, however, had begun to assert itself since the middle of the II century [1]. In any case by the end of the IV century the structure of Lent is that of forty days; seen in the light of the biblical symbolism, they acquire a salvific and redemptive value, for which they are called Sacramentum.

The Latin etymology quadragesima dies emphasises the fortieth day of preparation in view of the main feast of the entire liturgical year, which is precisely the Easter of the Resurrection of the Lord.


In the Lenten Masses the Gloria is omitted.

Not even the Alleluia is sung, nor in the liturgy of the Word in the Mass, which is replaced by an acclamation of praise to Christ, or within the Liturgy of the Hours, where it is simply omitted.

The memories of the saints are not celebrated during Lent.

The liturgical colour of the Roman Rite is purple. [2]

Flowers cannot be used to adorn the altar.

The organ and other musical instruments can only be used to accompany hymns.


The needs of the Catechumenate contributed to the development of Lent, with immediate preparation for Baptism, to celebrate in the solemn Easter Vigil: for the catechumens Lent was an opportunity for special catechesis as well as prayer and spiritual renewal.

Lent was also linked to the penitential discipline, with the reconciliation of sinners that took place on the morning of Holy Thursday: for the penitents, Lent was a period of struggle against evil which preceded sacramental absolution.

The stages of the progressive evolution of Lent can be outlined as follows [3].


The Didache prescribes a fast before baptism, to be carried out by the baptising, the minister and “others who are able to do so.” It is hoped that the members of the fasting community will be with those who are about to be baptised. It also specifies that fasting by baptising lasts “one or two days”.

The theologian and Martyr Hippolytus of Rome ((c. 170– † 235 AD) in his The Apostolic Tradition of also calls for fasting on “Friday” for those who are preparing to receive baptism [4].

Probably in both cases it is the Baptism administered on the Easter Vigil.

The Didache also speaks of a fast practiced every Wednesday (“fourth day”) and Thursday (“preparation day”) of the year.

The meaning of these fasts is not ascetic but of enlightenment.


We have evidence of the fact that in the third century in the Church of Alexandria fasting was observed during the entire week preceding Easter [5].

It is difficult to support the same thing for Rome: one can only see that on Sunday and Friday before Easter they were called De Passione, and that Wednesday and Friday of the same week they were allied days [6]. We also know that in the fifth century the story of the passion is read on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Both these data are indications of a very old practice.


During the fourth century the three-week Easter preparation was organised. This can very probably be deduced from the following findings:

The third Sunday before Easter (excluding Easter itself) was called Dominica in mediana; this is a typically Roman denomination [7]. This week was reserved for ordinations.

During these three weeks the Gospel according to John was proclaimed: this fact is significant, because the reading of John was characterised by passages referring to the proximity of Easter and to the presence of Jesus in Jerusalem.

On a more explicit level, the historian Socrates informs us that in the first decades of the fifth century in Rome Easter was preceded by three weeks of preparation.


The lengthening of the preparatory period from three to six weeks began a little before 384. The six weeks had a predominantly ascetical character, for the introduction of the practice of reconciliation of the penitents on Holy Thursday, after forty days – hence the name of Quadragesima – preparation; The Hieromartyr Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, Peter I  († November 25, 311) [8], of gives testimony of this. The penitents began their preparation on the first Sunday of these six weeks. The beginning will be anticipated on the previous Wednesday in a later period.

The six weeks progressively underwent important changes:


In the earliest testimonies we notice a fairly frequent use of the Gospel according to Matthew, which is read roughly following the order of the chapters. The reading of the epistle is normally harmonised with that of the Gospel.

At the level of the celebration days we can distinguish three stages:

Initially the celebration takes place only on Sunday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The readings of the first week were the following:

  • Sunday: Mt 4,1-11 (the Fast of Jesus in the desert); 2Cor 6,1-10 (favorable weather).
  • Wednesday: Mt 12.38-50 (The sign of Jonah, the offensive return of the unclean spirit, the true relatives of Jesus); Ex 24: 12-18 (the fast and forty days of Moses on Sinai); 1Kings 19.2-8 (the forty days fasting of the prophet Elijah).
  • Friday: Jn 5.1 to 15 (the paralytic healing at the Betesda pool); Ez 18.20-28 (personal responsibility).
  • Saturday: Mt 17,1-9 ​​(the transfiguration); 1 Thes 5: 14-23 (exhortation to live in the perspective of the return of Christ, that is, of our personal transfiguration).

The celebration of Monday and Tuesday is then introduced. The readings of the first week were:

  • Monday: Mt 25.31-36 (the universal judgment with the triumph of charity towards the neighbor); Ez 34: 11-16 (the Lord, the Good Shepherd, gathers his sheep and leads them to verdant pastures).
  • Tuesday: Mt 21,10-17 (the expulsion of sellers from the Temple); Is 55: 6-11 (the thoughts of the Lord are not those of man) [9].

With Gregory II (715-731) we start celebrating also on Thursdays. In the first week we read Mt 15.21-28 (the faith of the Canaanite) and Ez 18.1-9 (personal responsibility).


In the other weeks the Gospel readings are no longer in harmony with those of the epistles.


Towards the end of the fifth century the celebration of Wednesday and Friday before Lent began (which until then had began on the first Sunday) as if they were part of it. It came with the  imposition the ashes to penitents on Wednesday this week before the first Sunday, and this ceremony was then extended to all Christians, with the exception of the Church with the Ambrosian Rite who did not adhere to this change.

The Gelasian Sacramentary states that the penitents enter into a severe “spiritual retreat” on Ash Wednesday to stay there until Holy Thursday, and that Ash Wednesday is considered the caput quadragesimae.


During the 6th century it was annexed to Lent throughout the week preceding the first Sunday of Lent. The corresponding Sunday is called Quinquagesima, because it is the fiftieth day before Easter.

Two other Sundays, the Settuagesima and the Sessagesima, will be added towards the end of the 6th century and the beginning of the 7th. With this we note a strange tendency to anticipate the strong time of Lent, and somehow its peculiarity is diminished [10].


“The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis. Hence: a) More use is to be made of the baptismal features proper to the Lenten liturgy; some of them, which used to flourish in bygone days, are to be restored as may seem good. b) The same is to apply to the penitential elements. As regards instruction it is important to impress on the minds of the faithful not only a social consequences of sin but also that essence of the virtue of penance which leads to the detestation of sin as an offence against God; the role of the Church in penitential practices is not to be passed over, and the people must be exhorted to pray for sinners.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 109)

In this line, the liturgical reform re-established Lent:

restored the Paschal-baptismal character;

set the time of the beginning of Ash Wednesday up to the Mass in Coena Domini excluding, also suppressing the times of settuagesima, sessagesima and quinquagesima;

reduced the time of passion, which, in the Missal of Saint Pius V, began with the fifth Sunday of Lent, the day when the crosses are veiled; now this time begins with the Sunday of the Palms de Passione Domini (“from the Passion of the Lord”): Holy Week (which in the Ambrosian Rite is called Hedomada Authentica) concludes Lent;

In the Ambrosian Liturgical Tradition, unlike the Roman, each day of the Hebdomada Authentica is seen as a part of a dramatic chronicle of the Passion of Our Lord until His blessed Dead on the Cross and burial, alternated with readings pre-figuring His sufferings, prayers, and beautiful antiphons.

Furthermore, the selection of the biblical texts was made more abundant. The Lectionary of Sundays offers the possibility of the three itineraries:

  • a baptismal Lent (Year A);
  • a Christological Lent (Year B);
  • a penitential Lent (Year C).

The texts of the Old Testament now present in particular the History of Salvation.


The authentic meaning of Lent can be grasped in the light of the Paschal Mystery, which is celebrated in the solemn Paschal Triduum, and of the Sacraments of Christian Initiation which have their own place in it. Lent is therefore the opportunity for a more lively participation in the mystery of the dead and risen Christ: “we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17).

The accent not therefore placed on the ascetical practices (fasting and abstinence from meat, prayer and works of charity), but on the purifying and sanctifying actions of the Lord, which translates within the faithful into a commitment of conversion and a return to God:

“Grant, almighty God, through the yearly observances of holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effect. » (Roman Missal, Collect of the I Sunday of Lent, Year B) [Concede nobis, omnipotens Deus, ut, per annua quadragesimalis exercitia sacramenti, et ad intellegendum Christi proficiamus arcanum, et effectus eius digna conversatione sectemur.]


The typical actions of Lenten penance are:

  • Fasting: even if limited to Wednesday ashes (on the first Friday of Lent for the Ambrosian Rite) and to Good Friday, it expresses the participation of the body in the journey of conversion, and favours the abstention from sin.
  • Abstinence from meat (lean) on Friday: at the beginning it was a sign of poverty, since in ancient times it was cheaper than meat. It is a sign of the abandonment of luxury to live a more essential life.
  • Prayer: Lent is a time of more assiduous and intense prayer, individual and communal, closely linked to conversion, to leave more and more space for God.
  • Charity: Lent is a time of greater commitment to charity towards the brothers. There is no true conversion to God without conversion to fraternal love.

The church teaches that these works must be accomplished in the awareness of their sign value in view of conversion, and not an end in themselves.


Quaresima’ in  Nuovo Dizionario di Liturgia, (Ed. Augusto Bergamini et al), Edizioni Paoline, Cinisello Balsamo, Milano, 1984.

Liturgical Year: Lent, the Sacred Paschal Triduum, Easter Time (Vol. 2) Fr. Adrien Nocent OSB, Liturgical Press; Annotated edition (1 Jan. 2014)

Anàmnesis, I Sacramenti – teologia e storia della celebrazione, by The Faculty of Sacred Liturgy of the Pontifical University of St. Anselm, Marietti, Genova, (1986)

In remembrance of Me: The prayer of the church and the sacraments, by Aimé-Georges Martimort, The Liturgical Press (1958)

Quaresima nell’Enciclopedia Treccani”, by Anon, Enciclopedia Treccani Online. [Accessed March 6, 2019].

Dall’Avvento alla Pentecoste. La riforma liturgica nel messale di Paolo VI, by Fr. Patrick Regan OSB, Edizioni Dehoniane Bologna, (2013).

La Quaresima ambrosiana. Battesimo e riconciliazione by Mgr. Marco Navoni, Centro Ambrosiano, Milano 2010




  1. Adrien Nocent (1988), pp. 152-155
  2. The Apostolic Tradition also mentions made by the Bishop on Saturday, and the vigil of readings and instruction. Hippolytus of Rome, La Tradizione Apostolica, Edizioni Paoline, Milano, 1972, ISBN 8831511343.
  3. Dionysius of Alexandria, Epist. in Basilidem, de magno sabbato, quo tempore finiendum sit ieiunium, ed. M.-J. Routh, Reliquiae sacrae …, III, Oxford, 1846, pp. 222,229; cit. from Aimé-Georges Martimort (1963), p. 764.
  4. In other words, the Eucharist was not celebrated.
  5. Aimé-Georges Martimort (1963), p. 88.
  6. Aimé-Georges Martimort (1963), p. 760.
  7. Augusto Bergamini (1988), p. 1158.
  8. Initially, the reading was longer: Is 55.6-56.7.
  9. The Time of Settuagesima, which included these three Sundays, was abolished in the Roman Rite (ordinary form), for which Lent begins directly with Ash Wednesday. Instead it is preserved in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite.
  10. Pre-medieval calculation currently in use, dating back to the time of Saint Leo the Great when it was used by the whole Church: 5 days of Holy Week + 5 complete weeks = 40 days.
  11. Codified in the rubrics of the 1962 Missal: Lent, which coincides with fasting, dates from Holy Saturday to Ash Wednesday, but without counting the Sundays (in which one does not fast). 6 weeks of 6 days + 4 days between the Ashes and the 1st Sunday = 40 days.
  12. Codified by the 1969 General Roman Calendar: Lent dates from the Thursday of Holy Week to Ash Wednesday, also counting the Sundays; the link between Lent and fasting is dissolved, which remains only on Ash Wednesday (see Apostolic Constitution Pæntitemini by Paul VI, February 17, 1966). 5 days of Holy Week + 5 full weeks + 4 days between Ash and I Sunday = 44 days.
  13. This leads to the fact that the Milanese Carnival continues throughout the week before the beginning of Lent. This gives rise (for example in Canton Ticino, to Tesserete and to Biasca) to the distinction between the new carnival (the Roman one) which ends with the Mardi Gras and the old carnival (the Ambrosian one) which ends, however, a few days later.
  14. The same occurs in the principal solemnity.
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