Pike County faithful to receive ashes as Lent begins

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Today is a day of repentance for many faithful who will flock to area services in order to receive ashes on their forehead as the season of Lent begins.

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of putting ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of mourning and repentance to God.

“Back in the real early days of the church when Christians committed really big sins, they had basically separated themselves from the community,” explained Father Den Irwin at St. Martin in Troy.

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Irwin added that after fasting and praying and doing good works, a bishop would place ashes on a person’s head before they’d be coming back to the church.

Over the years, the practice translated into a tradition more and more people participated in.

“We are all sinners, and we all need to repent,” Irwin said. “So now, we all receive ashes.”

At Ash Wednesday services and Masses, ashes are placed on a person’s forehead and are traditionally worn until they wear off. Some priests or ministers mark foreheads in the shape of a cross, others make no particular shape. The ashes used are gathered after the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned.

“It’s a focus on repentance and renewal, and that opens the way to follow Jesus Christ as his disciples and help build His kingdom on Earth,” said Rev. David McVay with First United Methodist Church in Troy.

In the Christian tradition, Lent is the season leading up to Easter that many people associate with fasting or giving up something they enjoy. However, for many, Lent is as much about enriching spiritual life as it is about sacrifice.

The 40-days leading up to Easter after Ash Wednesday are used as a time of reflection and prayer.

“It’s a time of spiritual renewal where we ask God’s forgiveness of our sins and we do good works – prayer, fasting and almsgiving (giving to the poor),” Irwin said.

St. Martin also offers the Stations of the Cross each Friday during Lent at 5:30. Irwin called it a way to embark on a sort of spiritual journey with Jesus as he travels to his suffering and death.

“The whole idea is to draw us closer to God so we are ready to celebrate Easter,” Irwin said.

In addition to the Ash Wednesday services at churches in the area, it is custom for people, especially of the Catholic faith, to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, it is also customary to fast, eating only one full meal (and two small others, if necessary). Many people also participate in the practice of giving up something they enjoy as a sacrifice during the Lenten season.

If you would like to attend a local Ash Wednesday service, here are some options.

Holy Mass at 12:10 p.m. at Sorrell Chapel at Troy University.

Holy Mass at 6 p.m. at St. Martin.

Service at 6:30 p.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

Service at 7 p.m. at Park Memorial Methodist Church.

Service at 6 p.m. at First United Methodist Church.