Around the Diocese and around the world, Catholics gathered at Ash Wednesday Masses to mark the beginning of the 40 days of Lent.
At the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Bishop Alfred Schlert celebrated his traditional Mass for students of St. John Vianney Regional School.
“When we buy something, there’s often a return policy where we can get our money back for 30 days, no questions asked,” he told the students.
“Think of Lent as the Church’s return policy, when we can give back to God all the things we have done to offend him, for 40 days,” he said. “God accepts us back, no questions asked.”
The Bishop advised the students, and all Catholics, to make a good confession during Lent, and to answer the Lenten call for prayer, fasting and almsgiving (doing good works for others.)
This year’s ash distribution was different because of the pandemic. To minimize contact and maintain safety, the prayer “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” was said only once, before distribution, rather than over each recipient. Also, ashes were sprinkled on the tops of heads rather than being used to form a cross on the forehead.
The ashes are rich in symbolism. They are a call to repentance, a physical sign that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. They remind us that God created us from the earth, and that we will return to it when we die. They also symbolize God’s promise that even though our bodies will return to dust, our souls are meant to live forever with Him.
The ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from burning last year’s blessed palm branches.
As a reminder, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting, and of abstaining from meat. Fasting is defined as eating one full meatless meal, as well as two smaller meals that are not equal to a full meal. Catholics also do not eat meat on the other Fridays in Lent.