Ash Wednesday Readings

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q:  A pastor has passed along a question from some astute readers in his parish. They noticed that Ash Wednesday, even though it is not a solemnity, has two readings (in addition to the psalm and gospel).

I’ve looked in your Words Without Alloy, and found it interesting that the pre-conciliar lectionary had 1 reading (today’s 1st reading +v19), and it looked as if that would be the case in the revised lectionary—until, at the last minute, the 2 Cor reading was added. Our parish readers are curious: do you know what prompted the addition, especially late in the process? I am wondering if it is due to the fact that because Ash Wednesday ranks so high in the Table of Precedence they wanted to treat it like a solemnity. Thanks for any insights you can provide!


A:  Thanks for checking my book, which I just did too. You’re right, the second reading was a last minute addition to Ash Wednesday. I have no records of why the first edition made all the changes it did. You can puzzle out some things with good guesses. I think yours is sound. In the Table of Liturgical Days, Ash Wednesday comes right under the Sundays of Advent, Lent and Easter. Perhaps the final editors thought it merited an extra reading and most appropriately summoned the passage from 2 Corinthians to do the job. Still, the very next items on the table after Ash Wednesday are the early weekdays of Holy Week and the Octave of Easter—all of which have just one reading before the gospel. Then it moves to solemnities and All Souls Day—all of which have three readings. We just don’t know why the change happened to Ash Wednesday. But I’m kinda glad it did.