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Ash Wednesday begins Lenten season

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Feb. 22, 2012 at 9:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 21, 2012 at 8:22 p.m.

Calea Whirtley, 6, sits on her mother, Krista's, lap after their foreheads were marked with ashes during Christ the Victor Lutheran Church's Ash Wednesday service. The service was a solemn one focusing on sin and the need for repentance.

When the Rev. Amy Danchik called her congregation to receive ashes Wednesday night, Anna Smith and her two children were among the first to kneel at the altar.

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return," Danchik said, marking Smith's forehead with black ashes for the 7 p.m. Ash Wednesday service.

A sorrowful silence blanketed the sanctuary at Christ the Victor Lutheran Church, as congregants filed to the front kneelers and fell to their knees in prayer.

As Smith returned to her seat and listened to the hymns quietly echo from the piano, her eyes welled with tears.

"All of it reminds me of death, and how we will die one day," she said.

Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season in the Christian faith, which concludes in celebration on Easter Sunday.

Christian denominations vary in their observance of Lent - a 46-day period of prayer, fasting and sacrifice intended to spiritually prepare followers for the celebration of Jesus' resurrection - but Lutherans are among the few Protestant denominations that observe the season.

Methodists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians may also observe Lent.

"For us, the symbol of the ash comes with the saying 'remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.' It's a reminder at the beginning of the Lenten journey that we are mortal," Danchik said. "It reminds us of who we are, but the idea is to remember whose we are."

For Smith, attending the Ash Wednesday service is an important reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made with his life about 2000 years ago and his resurrection from death three days later.

"It is the time when I get into the somber thinking about Jesus' death and resurrection, and remember what he did for us," Smith said. "So I spend the time preparing my heart and mind for Lent and Holy Week."

Lent often is associated with giving up a personal vice for the duration of the season, though some Lutherans may add a spiritual practice rather than choosing to fast.

"I actually haven't given up anything for quite awhile. For the past few years I've been trying to add some sort of spiritual discipline or practice," Danchik said. "It's something, ideally, that we would continue doing after Lent is over."

At the start of the Ash Wednesday service Smith hasn't decided what she planned to give up for Lent, though in past years, she said she abstained from soda consumption.

Another Christ the Victor member, Greta Carlson, said she too, isn't planning to give anything up for Lent, but chooses rather, to focus on the gravity of the Lenten season, and the celebration leading up to the Christian faith's holiest holiday.

"It's a time of sadness acknowledging what Jesus did for us," Carlson said. "It really makes Jesus' sacrifice real - that he gave up his life for us when he was a king, and he didn't have to do that."

Danchik said the ashes used to mark foreheads at the Ash Wednesday service were made from palms used to observe Palm Sunday the previous year. The palms were burned and mixed with vegetable oil to make a paste, then marked in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of the faithful.

"When I look at everyone, Lent reminds me that I have to tell all these people that they are mortal and will die one day. But it's a good thing ... because I know the end of the story," Danchik said.



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