Cardinal Wuerl Marks the First Day of Lent

Asks those present to speak up for persecuted Christians around the world

February 18, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, celebrated Mass on Ash Wednesday in observance of the beginning of Lent, the 40-day penitential period before Easter and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl reflected on the significance of the ashes as a reminder that one day, each of us will die. “It puts that harsh, unwelcome fact into perspective,” the cardinal said. However, “The ashes signify our human fragility and poverty, and the cross highlights our salvation in the mercy of God”.

The cardinal reminded those present that during Lent “We are to try to detach ourselves from the things of this world and empty ourselves so that we might be filled instead with God’s ‘breath of life,’ that is, with his eternal Spirit….For this reason we engage in penitential practices like abstaining from food and charitable giving of our material goods.” 

The ashes of Lent remind us that this world is passing and we should put our trust ultimately in the eternal, in the Lord. The most important thing, the only permanent reality, is God. Rather than storing up earthly treasures, we should seek first his everlasting kingdom,” he said.

After the homily, ashes were distributed to those in attendance at the Mass. The imposition of ashes is an ancient practice found in the Old Testament. Once a public sign of an individual’s repentance, it became part of the Church’s Lenten preparations by the seventh century. Catholics around the world receive ashes on their foreheads in the Sign of the Cross as a symbol of penance and conversion.

In his closing remarks, the cardinal noted that all of those in attendance have the freedom to attend the Mass and practice their faith openly, without fear. “There are parts of the world where it might just as well be a death sentence to manifest yourself as a practicing Christian…Where their churches are destroyed, their homes are burned, their children are sold into slavery,” the cardinal said.

In addition to prayerful solidarity with our fellow Christians, Cardinal Wuerl said “The one thing we can do is speak up and to say ‘This is wrong, this should be rejected’ and it can’t be a passing one-day story that is forgotten the next day – the open slaughter of people simply because they believe in Jesus Christ.” The cardinal said we should keep persecuted Christians in our prayers and our voices because “We change the world by changing hearts, beginning with our own.”

The Archdiocese of Washington is again partnering with the Diocese of Arlington for the “The Light Is ON” initiative. Beginning February 25, all Catholic churches in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and Northern Virginia will be open on Wednesday evenings during Lent for confession and quiet prayer. More than 200 churches will be open on February 25, March 4, 11, 18 and 25. For resources on the Sacrament of Reconciliation or to learn more about why Catholics go to confession, visit or text LENT to 84576 to receive free daily reflections.


The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 620,000 Catholics, 139 parishes and 95 Catholic schools, located in Washington, D.C., and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.

Chieko Noguchi
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