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Ash Wednesday begins Lent

Spiritual observance marks 40-day period of repentance

Posted: February 26, 2009 12:57 a.m.
Updated: February 26, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Milada White, left, receives a cross of ash on her forehead from Dr. Stan Fix, pastor of the Friendly Valley Community Church as Ash Wednesday services end Wednesday.

Soft voices and organ music reverberated throughout the steeple as hundreds of Ash Wednesday observers sang "Be merciful oh Lord, we have sinned" at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Newhall.

Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent, a 40-day repentant period during which Catholics and some Christian denominations examine themselves and fast in anticipation of Easter, the religious holiday that marks Jesus' resurrection.

Observers repent, confront their mortality and confess their sins. Priests smudge ash in the shape of crosses on the worshippers' foreheads to commemorate the event.

"It's a reminder of our origin. We came from ash and back into ash we'll go," said Father Wharren Banico. "It's a time to embrace the nothingness of our existence here. Lent encourages people in the church to repent and make their lives holy before God."

Our Lady joined multiple churches around the Santa Clarita Valley that hosted services and Mass.

"Let us ask our Father to bless these ashes which will serve as the mark of our repentance," said Wharren before congregants filed down the church aisle to receive their mark of ashes.

Many worshippers sobbed quietly as they returned to their places along the long wooden pews and solemnly knelt in prayer.

It was a service of "spiritual healing" for Sara Dulmage, of Newhall, as she "left all (her) burdens at the altar," she said.

"It's a time to pray more, be compassionate to others, ask for spiritual guidance, reach out to those who are oppressed and just give them some hope in Jesus," Dulmage said.

It was Maria Fransisca's first Ash Wednesday Mass since she converted from Hinduism to Catholicism in 2007 when she married a Catholic.

"(The Mass) was wonderful, I'm so grateful to be here," Fransisca said. "It's new for me. I'm still learning."

The 40 days of Lent have been associated with Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, according to information provided by Friendly Valley Community United Methodist Church.

For some, it is a time of sacrifice as they share in the struggle they believe Jesus underwent; for others it is a time of thought and prayer.

At Friendly Valley Community in Newhall, a smaller group of about 35 observers attended a service led by Pastor Stan Fix.

Ash Wednesday is a day Karen Hudson, 70, has revered since childhood.

"It's a time to be quiet and think," Hudson said. "I review myself, how I'm acting as a Christian, whether I'm being kind or not."

Hudson said she will not fast but will observe Lent as a time to review what she's done in the last year and what she can do better.

Dick Churchill, 70, always observes Christmas and Easter but said he's taken Lent for granted.

"Now that I'm retired, more mature and have more time, I'm more observant of these things," Churchill said. "It's a time where we can rid ourselves of our sins, and that takes on a significance in my mind."


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