Christians crowded into local churches Wednesday, joining their counterparts around the world to mark the start of Lent with the traditional application of ashes to the forehead.
The 40-day Lenten season is regarded by Roman Catholics and others as the most sacred time of the year. It culminates with Holy Week and Easter Sunday, recognized as the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The ashes, applied as a sign of repentance to the forehead in the form of a cross by a priest or Eucharistic minister, traditionally come from palm fronds collected on the previous Palm Sunday and then burned.
Churches including St. Bede in La Cañada Flintridge, St. James in La Crescenta and Holy Family in Glendale added additional services Wednesday to accommodate parishioners, as well as their grade school and high school students.
At 8 a.m. Mass at Holy Redeemer Church in Montrose, the Rev. Tim McGowan told parishioners that the fasting and penance asked of Christians in the weeks leading up to Easter are not meant for public show.
“This is the beginning of Lent,” McGowan said. “This is a time of repentance. The important thing now is not what people think about us, but what God knows about us. God’s approval is worth more than all the applause the world can ever give.”
In addition to fasting, traditional Lenten practices include abstaining from consuming meat on Fridays, gathering at local churches for Friday soup suppers and giving up some of life’s pleasures, such as candy and sweets. Christians are also called on to pray and reflect on their relationship with God, and with those around them.
As they exited Mass Wednesday, many local church-goers said that they would use Lent as a reason to initiate new, positive behaviors, rather than eliminating old ones.
“With our children, we look for ways to give back to the community, look for community service-oriented activities for them to participate in,” said La Crescenta resident Stacy Toyon.
In the past, she and family members would give something up, she said.
“Now we try and find something a little more substantial,” Toyon said. “I am a breast cancer survivor, so I try and give back to that community.”
Long-time Holy Redeemer parishioners Dolores and Vito Maggipinto said they will attend daily Mass during Lent, just as they do throughout the year.
“I served the ashes one year and that was a thrill,” Dolores Maggipinto said. “It just meant a lot to me.”