Northern Ireland news

First Ecumenical Ash Wednesday Service to take place in Belfast

An Ecumenical Ash Wednesday Service will take place at St Mary's Church in Chapel Lane in Belfast city centre on Wednesday. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Marie Louise McConville

A special Ecumenical Ash Wednesday Service will take place in Belfast this week.

The 5.30pm service, which is believed to be the first of its kind, will take place at St Mary's in Chapel Lane in the city centre and all denominations are invited to attend.

The history-making service is taking place in the city's oldest Catholic Church which opened in 1784 and was built largely thanks to donations from the Presbyterian business community.

The pulpit inside the church was donated by the Church of Ireland while a picture of the Sacred Heart, which hangs inside the church, was donated by a Protestant business man.

The service will be led by Fr Tim Bartlett, alongside ministers from the Church of Ireland and Methodist churches.

Former Presbyterian Moderator Rev Ken Newell will preach during the service before prayers of thanksgiving will be offered over the ashes.

Those gathered, from all denominations, will then be invited to come forward to receive their ashes.

Fr Martin Magill said the idea of the all-inclusive service came about around a year ago.

"When it comes to the distribution of ashes, that for the most part, in times gone by, it would have been something associated with Catholics and yet, if we take a look at other denominations around the world, quite a number have some form of Ash Wednesday," he said.

"Part of it is realising this is not something exclusive to Catholics. This can actually be shared across the denominations and at the heart of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, is a sense of being humble and repentent for our sins and there is no reason whatsoever why we can't do this across the denominations.

"Ashes are very much a biblical symbol for repentance. A sense of sorrow. It is also a reminder to us of our mortality".

Fr Magill said there was no "obligation or expectation" at the "open invitation" service.

"People from across all denominations will be invited to come forward and receive ashes, in what we believe is the first time ever in Belfast," he said.

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