By Tony DeGol
Scripture tells us that when we pray or fast, we should do so in private.
On Ash Wednesday, however, we Catholics seek the very visible sign of ashes on our forehead.
“The significance of ashes goes way back to the Old Testament when we see that in Genesis, God told Adam that he is dust and to dust he will return, and so ashes are a sign of our mortality,” explained Father Mark Pattock, OFM Cap., Pastor of Saint John the Baptist Parish and Retreat Center in New Baltimore. “We can also look back to Job where he repents of his sin and puts on ashes and sackcloth.”
The first reading during Lent from Joel, Father Pattock continued, reminds us that receiving ashes is a public symbol of what we will do in the days to come.
“After Ash Wednesday, those practices will be private and done in secret so that only the Father sees and will repay you,” he added.
Father Pattock’s words come as the faithful of Altoona-Johnstown prepare for the penitential season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, February 26.
Although not a Holy Day of Obligation, pews throughout the diocese will likely be filled as individuals take advantage of Masses and other opportunities to receive ashes and begin the solemn 40 days.
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting and abstaining from meat. The other Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence.
According to Church law, those between the ages of 18 and 59 are called to fast. People 14 or older should abstain.
By giving up meat, Father Pattock advised, we show that we are counting on God to provide for our needs.
“We can really fast from anything that takes us away from the Lord,” he noted. “It doesn’t have to be meat, but the Church focuses on meat because that’s what gives us sustenance ultimately, but our trust is in the Lord to help us through this.”
Besides prayer and fasting, almsgiving is another component of Lent. Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl is one of the most familiar Lenten programs.
According to CRS, alms donated through Rice Bowl support the agency’s work in dozens of countries, and a portion remains in the local diocese to help the poor.
Monsignor Michael Becker, Pastor of Saint John the Evangelist Parish in Altoona, is urging Catholics to embrace good works during the Lent.
“Look for opportunities to serve within your parish or within your community,” he encouraged. “There are countless people who need your support through food banks and soup kitchens – any way that you can show your love to others, that’s the kind of sacrifice that the Lord wants for this Lenten season.”
Throughout Lent, parishes invite the faithful to pray the Stations of the Cross, which trace Jesus’ steps to His crucifixion.
In the coming weeks, Catholics are also encouraged to seek God’s healing and forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Besides the regular individual Confession opportunities, many parishes offer Communal Penance Services leading up to Easter.
The diocesan Office of Communications invited all parishes in the diocese to share their Ash Wednesday, Stations of the Cross, and Communal Penance Service schedules for Lent 2020. Schedules from the parishes that responded are available on the local news and parish news sections of the Proclaim! e-news site.
[Photo: Bishop Mark distributes ashes during Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on Ash Wednesday 2019. The Bishop will celebrate the Noon Mass at the Cathedral this Ash Wednesday, February 26.]