The First Day of Lent:
In the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is th first day of Lent, the season of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. (In Eastern Rite Catholic churches, Lent begins two days earlier, on Clean Monday.)
While Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, all Roman Catholics are encouraged to attend Mass on this day in order to mark the beginning of the Lenten season.
The Distribution of Ashes:
During Mass, the ashes which give Ash Wednesday its name are distributed. The ashes are made by burning the blessed palms that were distributed the previous year on Palm Sunday; many churches ask their parishioners to return any palms that they took home so that they can be burned.
After the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water, the faithful come forward to receive them. The priest dips his right thumb in the ashes and, making the Sign of the Cross on each person's forehead, says, "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return" (or a variation on those words).
A Day of Repentance:
The distribution of ashes reminds us of our own mortality and calls us to repentance. In the early Church, Ash Wednesday was the day on which those who had sinned, and who wished to be readmitted to the Church, would begin their public penance. The ashes that we receive are a reminder of our own sinfulness, and many Catholics leave them on their foreheads all day as a sign of humility.
Fasting and Abstinence Are Required:
The Church emphasizes the penitential nature of Ash Wednesday by calling us to fast and abstain from meat. Catholics who are over the age of 18 and under the age of 60 are required to fast, which means that they can eat only one complete meal and two smaller ones during the day, with no food in between. Catholics who are over the age of 14 are required to refrain from eating any meat, or any food made with meat, on Ash Wednesday.
Taking Stock of Our Spiritual Life:
This fasting and abstinence is not simply a form of penance, however; it is also a call for us to take stock of our spiritual lives. As Lent begins, we should set out specific spiritual goals we would like to reach before Easter and decide how we will pursue them—for instance, by going to daily Mass when we can and receiving the Sacrament of Confession more
Area Catholics mark beginning of Holy Week with procession
Originally published March 25, 2013
By Brian Englar
In the biblical account of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus, riding a donkey, led a triumphant procession into Jerusalem the Sunday before his death, greeted by followers who threw cloaks and palm branches before him.
As they have for many Palm Sundays, members of Frederick's Saint John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church's Hispanic congregation commemorated that journey with a procession from Baker Park to the church. Led down Church Street by a pickup filled with musicians and a float depicting Christ surrounded by flowers, dozens of congregants followed behind holding palm fronds, some fashioned into the shape of a cross.
Father Miguel Mateo -- who blessed the procession and sprinkled holy water on congregants before the group set out -- said the procession is a long tradition in the Catholic church that marks the beginning of Holy Week.--
"The tradition is 2,000 years old, when Jesus entered Jerusalem before his passion and death," Mateo said. "For other churches, maybe it is not as important as it is for us, and that's OK. But we try to remember that event in a very special way. It is something very special for us Catholics, the very beginning of the Holy Week, remembering the Passion, the death, the suffering of Jesus and, of course, his glorious resurrection."
Mateo said some older members who can't participate in the procession wait at the church to meet the group.
"It is an honor," said church member Julio Valcarcel of participating in the procession. Valcarcel is the Grand Knight of the Spanish-speaking chapter of the Knights of Columbus, founded in 2009. He and other Knights of Columbus members wearing blue smocks assisted with the preparations, and four members carried the float at the head of the procession.
Maria Castro, head of religious education for the Hispanic congregation, said the procession is particularly important in conveying to children in a hands-on way the meaning and importance of the week to come.
"It is to teach them that today is the most important day for us to start with the Holy Week," Castro said.
The procession is also a spiritually meaningful and symbolic event for participants like herself, Castro said.
"The most spiritual thing is that we are accompanying him in the process of salvation," she said.
History: Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, commemorates the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. No Mass is celebrated on Good Friday; instead, the Church celebrates a special liturgy in which the account of the Passion according to the Gospel of John is read, a series of intercessory prayers (prayers for special intentions are offered), and the faithful venerate the Cross by coming forward and kissing it. The liturgy concludes with the distribution of Holy Communion. Since there was no Mass (and, therefore, the Eucharist was not consecrated), Hosts that were reserved from the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday are distributed instead.
Good Friday is a day of strict fast and abstinence. Since the date of Good Friday is dependent on the date of Easter, it changes from year to year.
The Greatest Christian Feast:
Easter is the greatest feast in the Christian calendar. On this Sunday, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. For Catholics, Easter Sunday comes at the end of 40 days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving known as Lent. Through spiritual struggle and self-denial, we have prepared ourselves to die spiritually with Christ on Good Friday, the day of his Crucifixion, so that we can rise again with him in new life on Easter.
The Fulfillment of Our Faith:
Easter is a day of celebration because it represents the fulfillment of our faith as Christians. St. Paul wrote that, unless Christ rose from the dead, our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:17). Through his death, Christ saved mankind from bondage to sin, and he destroyed the hold that death has on all of us; but it is his resurrection that gives us the promise of new life, both in this world and the next.
The Coming of the Kingdom:
That new life began on Easter Sunday. In the Our Father, we pray that "Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven." And Christ told his disciples that some of them would not die until they saw the Kingdom of God "coming in power" (Mark 9:1). The early Christian Fathers saw Easter as the fulfillment of that promise. With the resurrection of Christ, God's Kingdom is established on earth, in the form of the Church.
New Life in Christ:
That is why people who are converting to Catholicism traditionally are baptized at the Easter Vigil service, which takes place on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter), starting sometime after sunset. They have usually undergone a long process of study and preparation known as the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). Their baptism parallels Christ's own death and resurrection, as they die to sin and rise to new life in the Kingdom of God.
Communion - Our Easter Duty:
Because of the central importance of Easter to the Christian faith, the Catholic Church requires that all Catholics who have made their First Communion receive the Holy Eucharist sometime during the Easter season, which lasts through Pentecost, 50 days after Easter. (They should also take part in the Sacrament of Confession before receiving this Easter communion.) This reception of the Eucharist is a visible sign of our faith and our participation in the Kingdom of God. Of course, we should receive Communion as frequently as possible; this "Easter Duty" is simply the minimum requirement set by the Church.
By Scott P. Richert