The tradition of imposing ashes is an ancient one that symbolizes God’s ownership and protection, said the Rev. Bill Rogalla of St. Bernadette Catholic Church.
“For us, it is a reminder that we are dust and to dust we will return,” Rogalla said, quoting from the book of Genesis. Ashes were used as a sign of reflection, mourning and repentance in the Old Testament, he added.
The book of Revelation also talks about Christians having God’s mark on them, he said.
St. Bernadette Catholic Church also had services at 12:10 p.m. and again at 6 p.m.
Ash Wednesday services are open to anyone who wants to attend, not just members of the church, Rogalla said. That is because the imposition of the ashes is considered “sacramental” and not one of the seven sacraments, he said.
“A sacramental is something like holy water, which anyone can use to sprinkle, or anybody can pray a rosary,” he said.
The church’s Ash Wednesday services are usually well attended because of that reason, he said.
“When we fast and pray these 40 days of Lent and we put these ashes on, we walk with our Lord just as he did,” he said, referring the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert.
The ashes come from the burning of the palm leaves of the previous year’s Palm Sunday service, Rogalla said.
Rogalla places ashes on the forehead in the form of a cross, but, in Rome, ashes are sprinkled on the crown of the head, he said.
Church members also reflected on what the day and the season mean to them.
The season is a time of penance and giving up things for the 40 days “for your faith,” and the day is “a big, Catholic tradition,” following Mardi Gras, said Lane Boudreaux of Bayou Vista.
Boudreaux also explained what he plans to do for Lent. “I think we’re going to go to church more. We’re going to try to go a couple times a week, a few times a week as a family,” he said.
Amelia Benavides of Bayou Vista plans to start reading the book “Dare to Love,” which is about 40 days of commitment. She received the book as a Christmas gift, but because of the 40-day aspect of the book she decided to start it at Lent, she said.
The Lenten season ends after 40 days with Easter Saturday, which begins after sunset on that Saturday, Rogalla said.
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics traditionally eat only one full meal and two partial meals that don’t equal a full meal and don’t eat meat, he said. During Lent, Catholics also don’t eat meat on Fridays.
“It’s kind of hard here in Louisiana because there’s such wonderful seafood, it doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice,” Rogalla said with a laugh.
Though giving up something for Lent is traditionally associated with the season, people can also gain from the season by devoting their time to prayer, doing good works for others or visiting a nursing home, he said.
“It’s not necessarily what you give up. It’s what you improve yourself on. Along with that comes giving up,” Benavides said.
Rogalla also reacted to Pope Benedict’s announcement that he is stepping down as pope at the end of February. Pope Benedict XVI publicly announced his resignation Monday citing health reasons.
“On one hand, I’m really sad because it’s like losing a father. But the other side of it, I’m really excited because I know God is in charge of everything,” Rogalla said.
“A week or so ago, he released a dove from the papal apartments … I saw that, and the dove tried to fly back, I immediately thought of John Paul and a dove doing that a few weeks before he died. And I was thinking, ‘I wonder if this is a sign that we won’t have Pope Benedict for long.’”
Benavides said the announcement was a “big surprise” to her. “I’m anxious to see what happens.”