About 100 people gathered at the Shrine of St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Olde Town on Ash Wednesday to begin the traditional Christian celebration of the 40-day Lenten season, which calls people to live more simply and closer to God.
“Be merciful, Oh, Lord, for we have sinned,” the congregation sang at the Feb. 10 noon ceremony. “A clean heart create for me, Oh, God.”
As a soft midday glow seeped through the sanctuary’s purple-and-white stained glass windows, parishioners sat in pews or knelt in prayer.
“Oh, Lord, we may begin with holy fasting this vow of Christian spirit,” Father Medrano said as he began to read from the Gospel according to Matthew and speak about the purpose of the tradition. “We’re all here today because we are celebrating a wonderful day in our lives, not just to receive ashes or celebrate tradition, but to listen to what Jesus Christ has said to each and every one of us, so we may live a life as he and his heavenly father wants us to.”
Charging parishioners to contemplate their lives, Medrano encouraged each individual to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, live a life of obedience, humility and holiness and “to be partners in love.”
As the priest finished his message, parishioners rose to sing a hymn and line up to receive ashes. Medrano and three volunteers spread ashes in the shape of a cross on each parishioner’s forehead, symbolizing the dust from which God created humans and to which all must return.
“Repent and listen to your heavenly father,” one volunteer said, placing ashes on another’s forehead.
“Remember, from dust we are created and to dust we will return,” another said.
Following the ash ceremony, the group sang another song and knelt in prayer.
“May we turn away from harmful pleasures … and turn to your son who lives forever and ever,” Medrano said.
Linking hands, the congregation prayed the Lord’s Prayer and took communion. And in one final hymn, the ceremony ended, officially beginning the start of the season of Lent.
“We’re here, hopefully,” parishioner Blanca Alvarado said after the Mass, “to cleanse ourselves and renew ourselves.”