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With the mark of a cross, Lent begins for Christians

Ash Wednesday begins Lent and the Easter Season for Christians.

At Roman Catholic Churches and other Christian houses of worship around the world and locally, the faithful received a cross of ashes on their forehead. The practice dates back hundreds and hundreds of years.

“The ashes are simply a symbol that … we're doing penance, in preparation for Easter and also a reminder ... from the book of Genesis 'we are dust and unto dust we shall return',” said Monsignor Dale Rupert, director of worship for the Diocese of Scranton and senior priest at St. Peter's Cathedral in Scranton. WVIA News spoke with him ahead of Ash Wednesday.

During the noon prayer service at St. Nicholas Church in Wilkes-Barre, hundreds of faithful lined up to receive ashes. The black dust is made from burned palm branches from the previous year's Palm Sunday. Baskets for palms sat in the foyer of the church.

Most churches hold off on burning their own palms, said Rupert. St. Nick’s returns them to dust a few weeks before Ash Wednesday.

During the service, the Rev. Fidel Ticano called Lent a season of grace and spiritual renewal and growth.

Lent is 40 days, not including Sundays, and ends Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday which is on March 31.

"In Old English, there was a word … lencten … and it simply meant spring or springtime. That's where our word Lent comes from," said Rupert.

The Christian religious observance marks the time Jesus Christ spent fasting in the desert, before he began his public ministry. Many Christians fast on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during the Lenten season.

Rupert said Easter and Christmas go hand in hand.

"Even though it seems like they're two different separate celebrations … they're actually the one mystery," he said. "We believe Jesus was born in order to die on the cross for us and rise on Easter Sunday.”

During Lent, Christians pray for their own renewal and spiritual life and for those they love and to deepen their connection with Jesus, said Rupert.

"And also the needs of the world, especially for peace in the Middle East and Ukraine," said Rupert. "And ... people who are suffering or poor or distressed might find the help and support they need from their brothers and sisters in the Christian faith."

St. Nicholas Church in Wilkes-Barre has a basket of fasting and prayer ideas for Lent.
Aimee Dilger
St. Nicholas Church in Wilkes-Barre has a basket of fasting and prayer ideas for Lent.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.

You can email Kat at katbolus@wvia.org