Ash Wednesday: Ancient tradition still thrives in modern times

The Mary Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church will observe the solemn fast of Ash Wednesday with Holy Communion and optional imposition of ashes on Wednesday, March 1. For centuries, Christians have received a cross of ashes on the face at the beginning of that season as a reminder of mortal failings and an invitation to receive God's forgiveness.

The rules of Lent have changed quite a bit since it was first celebrated but the general idea is to make a sacrifice as a form of penance (repenting for your sins), to renew your faith and to prepare to celebrate. Holy Covenant will offer the option at its 7 p.m. service Wednesday.

Parish priests say they get more people at church that day than nearly any other - excluding Christmas and Easter - and the congregations are usually much bigger than for Holy Thursday or Good Friday services. "Having someone put ashes on your head and remind you "we are dust and to dust we shall return" is an act of humility".

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The somber occasionbegins a 40-day period when Christians are asked to think about the central belief of their faith: the death and resurrection of Jesus, said the Rev. Donald Senior, president emeritus of the Catholic Theological Union based in Chicago.

The priest said the use of ashes goes back to Old Testament times when sackcloth and ashes were worn as signs of penance. "I think it is actually a way of adding on to that message already".

The religious ritual delivers a message of hope and acceptance that can resonate with the LGBTQ community, which has faced anti-gay rhetoric and churches that were not welcoming, Kinsey said. He said the day gives Catholics "a place to clearly begin something new that we know we need to do".

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