By Catholic Review Staff
Many Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore are heading to church March 1 to begin the 40-day preparation for Easter by receiving ashes on their foreheads.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and a time for prayer and repentance. During Mass or other liturgy, a priest or deacon blesses ashes made from burned palms from the previous Palm Sunday. The Sign of the Cross is made on the forehead of each person who comes forward as the priest, deacon or lay ministers says, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The liturgy, which emphasizes the mercy of God, reminds participants of their own mortality and of the importance of penance. While Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, Catholic bishops encourage the faithful to attend Mass if they are able.
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori will celebrate two Masses on Ash Wednesday: 12:10 p.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore and 5:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland.
Carlos Godoy and his 5-month-old daughter Sofia received ashes at an early morning Mass March 1 at Holy Trinity Church in Glen Burnie. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the penitential season of Lent. (Christopher Gunty/CR Staff)
Lenten guidelines in the United States require Catholics age 14 and older to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays during Lent. Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are additionally asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In addition to prayer and fasting, Catholics are encouraged to practice almsgiving during Lent and receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. Most parishes make the sacrament readily available with penance services during Lent. Some parishes also offer Lenten missions to provide opportunities for faith enrichment.
More than 125 people gathered just as the sun rose March 1 at Holy Trinity Church in Glen Burnie for the distribution of ashes and Mass.
In his homily, Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity Father Joseph McDonough called Ash Wednesday a “blessed, special day” as it marks the beginning of a journey of 40 days.
“It is a journey of healing, it is a journey of hope … that we will experience the mercy of Jesus,” he said. The days of Lent recall Christ’s 40 days in the desert and encourage us to pray to seek that we do good as we walk with Jesus to Good Friday and Easter.
He told those gathered to take one day at a time the commitment to the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and giving alms.
Through the journey of his suffering and death, Jesus “will rise for you and rise for me.”
“We present ourselves to him for his mercy,” Father McDonough said.
Carlos Godoy and his wife Vanessa Ortiz brought their 5-month-old daughter Sofia to the Mass. “We wanted to start as a family these 40 days preparation,” he said. “As a family, this is the right way to start (the journey for) the Crucifixion and Resurrection.”