St. Joseph Catholic Church on Devine Street held a noon Mass for Ash Wednesday. Many in attendance were marked with ash crosses on their foreheads in preparation for the Lenten season. 

On the corner of Greene and Assembly street a pastor stood alone on the cold morning of Ash Wednesday next to a sign reading “ashes-to-go.”

Within a few moments, students and faculty preparing to enter the Christian season of Lent approached the Rev. Robert Walker, who had donned pastoral robes to mark their foreheads with ashes.

“It is an opportunity to interact with students and faculty as they walk by and to easily give this dispensation of grace and start the Lenten season,” said Walker, who is in his second year as pastor of the nearby Greene Street United Methodist Church. 

Lent, the period of reflection leading up to Easter in the Christian faith, is a time for penitence and a call for people to abstain  from a luxury, to mimic the sacrifice Jesus made for 40 days in the desert in the Christian Bible. The Lenten season lasts for 46 days with each Sunday serving as a “little Easter,” according to Walker.

He added that the season is intended to be about more than giving something up. 

“It’s not necessarily just giving something up but you can take on a new spiritual practice, like 15 minutes of prayer or meditation or be committed to being a regular attender at services,” Walker said. “It’s not just a matter of punishing yourself or giving something up, it’s a matter of seeking to be more spiritual.”

The 46-day season has eight holy days leading up to Easter, including Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Easter, the highest celebration in the Christian community, is the final day of Lent and symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

“So many people think that during Lent you have to be all somber and sad. Jesus said in the Gospel when you’re practicing spirituality, when you’re fasting, don’t go out looking all gloomy, but rather refresh yourself and go out and keep your spiritual practices to yourself,” Walker said.

Lent is most commonly observed in the Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and Catholic churches.

Those who receive the cross of ashes are met with the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Msgr. Richard Harris, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, told the congregation in his noon day Lenten message that Lent is “about your inner self reaching out to touch a God that heals and redeems.”  To him, Lent isn’t about sacrifice, but instead about acknowledging one’s inner sins and restoring a healthy relationship with God.

“It shows us through that smudge of a cross on our foreheads that we can and will rise again,” Harris said.  

Rev. Walker spent the morning distributing ashes to students, faculty and anyone who walks by the church. This marks the start of the Lenten season.