Local Christians on Wednesday joined their counterparts around the world in marking the beginning of Lent with the traditional distribution of ashes.
Ash Wednesday is recognized by Roman Catholics and other Christians as the official start to the holiest period of the liturgical year. The 40 days of Lent culminates with Holy Week and Easter Sunday, the latter of which is celebrated as the resurrection of Jesus.
The ashes, which are applied by a priest or Eucharistic minister to the forehead of the parishioner in the shape of a cross, traditionally come from palm fronds that are collected on the previous Palm Sunday and then burned.
Holy Family Catholic Church in Glendale celebrated six services Wednesday in order to accommodate its parishioners and grade school and high school students.
The Lenten season is representative of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public ministry, the Rev. John Bosco Musinguzi said. It also evokes the 40 years that the Israelites spent wandering the desert during their journey to the Promised Land, he added.
“The ashes remind us of the humility we are supposed to have as Catholics,” Musinguzi said.
During Lent, Christians are called to pray, fast and give alms, Musinguzi said. They are also encouraged to use the period as an opportunity to clear from their lives anything that is hampering their relationship with God.
As she exited Mass on Wednesday with a dark smudge on her forehead, Glendale resident Geri Urrutia said she would focus this Lent on holding her tongue.
“Ash Wednesday means the start of something,” Urrutia said. “It means we are going to purify ourselves and have a really rejoicing time at Easter. It spurs me to do better.”
Lent reminds Christians of their own shortcomings, and of the mercifulness of God, said Tujunga resident Roland Mungues.
“I told my kids I am going to give up rice,” Mungues said. “We Filipinos eat rice all the time, in every meal that we have, we eat rice. They said that it [will be] really tough because I cannot live [without it].”
Holy Family Pastor the Rev. Jim Bevacqua said the ashes also are a reminder that life on earth is temporary.
“The whole Lenten season is about trying to repent and turn to God,” he said.