The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 10, 2013

For area faithful, Ash Wednesday marks beginning of Lenten season

Tom Lavis
tlavis@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and repentance traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations, begins Wednesday in preparation for Easter.

Catholics often view the six-week Lenten period as a time of reflection and self-sacrifice.

The Rev. William E. Rosenbaum, pastor of St. Clement Roman Catholic Church in Upper Yoder Township, said the main purposes of Lent are preparing the faithful for a holy Easter and preparing those candidates who will be be welcomed into the Catholic faith through baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist.

He said sacrificing during Lent is one way for the faithful to sacrifice as Jesus did, and to  improve self-discipline.

By observing the 40 days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for 40 days.

“Sacrifice doesn’t necessarily mean giving something up,” Rosenbaum said. “People could increase their prayer life, attend a daily Mass, pray the Stations of the Cross at home  or do charitable acts to help the needy.”

Fasting also is a part of Lent, as Catholics are to abstain from eating meat on Fridays, and the faithful fast by eating only one large meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Rosenbaum’s message to his congregation on Ash Wednesday will be to take time to embark on a Lenten journey that will bring them closer to God.

As people deliberate past failings or faults, Lent offers them a time to turn those imperfections around to become better followers of Jesus Christ.

Although the church doesn’t require the faithful to attend Ash Wednesday services, most Roman Catholics make the effort to receive ashes.

“I would estimate 90 percent of (practicing) Catholics take part because they see this as an external sign of what’s happening on the inside, such as repenting sins and helping others,” Rosenbaum said.

The ashes symbolize man’s mortality, and since no one is going to live forever, it also symbolizes man’s return to dust.

The six weeks of Lent lead up to the Easter Triduum, which begins on Holy Thursday with the  Mass of the Lord’s Supper, is continued through Good Friday with the celebration of the passion of the Lord and on Holy Saturday reaches its high point with the Easter vigil.

The Rev. John D. Byrnes, pastor of St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church in Cresson, said the word Lent means springtime, which translates into a spiritual rebirth to begin again to walk the way of the Cross.

“People sometimes miss the point of giving something up,” Byrnes said. “Giving something up in isolation is not the intent, but it’s a time for prayer, fasting and giving of alms to others.”    

He said the things that people concentrate on during Lent are the same things that people should be doing every day.

Other Christian faiths observe Ash Wednesday and reflect on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Larry Rowe, pastor of First United Methodist Church, will conduct a joint Ash Wednesday service with the Johnstown United Methodist Parish Inc. (JUMP). The ministry is comprised of four Johns-town churches –  First United Methodist, Franklin Street United Methodist, Trinity Asbury United Methodist and Trinity United Methodist.

The service will be held at

7 p.m. Wednesday at First United Church at 436 Vine St. in downtown Johnstown.

Rowe called Lent a reflective season, not a sad time. He said that’s because the faithful believe what Christ has accomplished for them and what they are preparing to celebrate.

“Though we have crash landed, God through Jesus, exchanges our sins with his righteousness,” Rowe said.

The Rev. Terry Knipple, pastor of Franklin Street United Methodist Church, will deliver the message.

Rowe extends an invitation to take part in the Lenten discipline, which will include disposition of ashes, scripture readings, hymns, confession of sins and acceptance of God’s pardon.

“As Methodists, we focus on being grateful for the gift of love given to us in Christ,” Rowe said. “We encourage to live faithfully as ambassadors; witnessing to others so they will be doubly blessed as well.”

The Very Rev. Protopresbyter Frank Miloro of Christ the Saviour Cathedral, 300 Garfield St. in the West End section of Johns-  town, said four successive Sundays are used to introduce a Lenten mindset to the faithful.

They are: Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, Sunday of the Prodigal Son, Meatfast Sunday and finally Cheesefast Sunday.

“The very next day after Cheesefast Sunday is the first day of Lent, which is always a Monday,” Miloro said. “The Gospel lessons for those four Sundays deliver the theme of Lent – humility, forgiveness, charity, fasting and prayer. “

This year, the first day of Orthodox Lent is March 18, and the time between the Western and Eastern observances of Easter is five weeks difference this year.

“The strict fasting discipline for Lent is the denial of all meat and dairy products in one’s diet for 40 days plus Holy Week,” Miloro said. “Some people will not follow the strict rules, but rather a lesser fast.”

The infirm, aged or sick are exempted from a strict fast and encouraged to fast the best they can.

The Lenten fast is broken with the reception of Communion at the Easter Liturgy.

“Fasting ceases, and feasting begins with the eating of foods that were not eaten during Lent,” Miloro said. “My personal recommendation to my people is that they set as strict a rule of fasting as they can, and then stay with it because the results are spiritually rewarding.”

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