Christians throughout the Southland will observe Ash Wednesday today, ushering in the 40-day season of Lent, when the faithful prepare for Easter by doing penance for sins and seeking spiritual renewal through prayer, discipline and good works.

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of penance. A minister or priest marks the forehead of each participant with black ashes in the shape of a cross.

In the Roman Catholic church, individuals are told as the ashes are applied to their foreheads, “Turn from sin and live the Gospel.”

Catholics observe Ash Wednesday by fasting, abstaining from meat and repenting. Other Christian denominations make fasting optional, with the main focus being on repentance.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Jose H. Gomez will celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass at noon at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. The Mass will be streamed live on the cathedral’s website,

Mass will be also celebrated at the cathedral in English at 6:15, 7 and 8 a.m. and 5:15 p.m., and at 7 p.m. in Spanish. A bilingual Liturgy of the Word will be celebrated at 3 p.m.

Ashes will be distributed during all services.

“During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us make this Lent a time when we really make mercy the heart of our identity as Christians,” Gomez said, referring to Pope Francis’ calling an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy to direct our attention and actions “on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s actions in our lives.”

“Mercy means action. Mercy means feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and burying the dead.

“In our personal relationships, mercy means having more patience and tenderness with those who are close to us. Mercy means giving people the benefit of the doubt, giving them a second chance. Mercy means forgiving others as we have been forgiven.

“So during his season of Lent, let us fast and pray that God will give us a merciful heart.”

In an Ash Wednesday statement, President Barack Obama said, “Lent is a season of reflection, repentance and renewal, a time to rededicate ourselves to God and one another.

“We remember the sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ. We pray for all those who suffer, including those Christians who are subjected to unspeakable violence and persecution for their faith.  And we join millions here at home and around the world in giving thanks for this sacred and solemn season that guides us toward the Easter celebration.”

–City News Service

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