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TODAY MARKS START OF LENT FOR CATHOLICS

By Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / February 26, 1998

RESERVE – Catholics around the world will be going to church to receive ashes in a tradition that dates back over 900 years.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season, began in relation to Easter Sunday. In the early church, 40 days were counted back from EasterSunday. These 40 days were used to prepare for the holiest day on thechurch calendar – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Easter was always connected with the sacrament of baptism. ForCatechumens, those who want to be a part of the church but are not, the 40 days are a period of preparation for Easter Sunday when they will be baptised into the church. But the Lenten season is also a time for allCatholics to prepare and celebrate Easter.

The practice of putting ashes on the forehead was started by Pope Urban II in 1091 as a way to officially began the season of preparation. Palms fromPalm Sunday are burned to create the ashes. The ashes on the forehead area reminder of man’s mortality, that life is passing and that our ultimate reward is in heaven. Thus the words, “Remember you are dust and to dustyou shall return” when the priest places the ashes on the forehead. Bysaying “Amen” after receiving the ashes, the receiver is saying that he or she accepts it.

“It is a practice for the last end,” Father Robert Vincent, pastor of St.

Joan of Arc in LaPlace, said.

Ash Wednesday officially begans the Lenten season, a time where Catholics become aware of sin in their lives and try to repent through prayer, fasting and alms-giving. Father Pat Sanders, pastor of St. Peter’sChurch in Reserve, said that it is one of the most-attended events on the church calendar because whether they practice their faith or not they are aware of sin in their lives and want to turn back to God. Vincent said thatis the same reason why so many non-Catholics also receive ashes on Ash Wednesday.

Sanders said that turning back to God is a lifelong process and that receiving the ashes is a symbolic moment of this penitance.

“If you receive the ashes with the belief ‘I want to change my belief,’ then it is important,” Sanders said.

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