The Start of the Solemn Lenten Season

“We are a people of faith, we recognize God’s merciful hand in our lives, we realize Christ’s salvation through the Cross and we see life through the lens of faith.”

February 22, 2012

Lent begins today, Wednesday, February 22, with Catholics around the world fasting and receiving ashes on their foreheads in the Sign of the Cross as a symbol of penance and conversion. In the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl celebrated an Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, telling the faithful, “It is part of the calling of Christ to see in all of the pains and sorrows, frustrations and unfulfilled expectations of everyday life something of the Way of the Cross.”

In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl explained that Lent starts with the imposition of ashes in the Sign of the Cross, an outward indication of the mystery of our salvation. It is meant to be a sign of realistic self-appraisal, faith in Christ’s redemptive love and hope that God’s grace is at work in each of us. Lent is the 40-day penitential period before Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. 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.

Cardinal Wuerl told the faithful, Lent is not just a time in which Catholics “give things up.” Lent is a time of penance and reconciliation. “We are a people of faith, we recognize God’s merciful hand in our lives, we realize Christ’s salvation through the cross and we see life through the lens of faith.” The self-denial, self-discipline and penance Catholics experience during Lent show a belief that Christ, through his Resurrection, makes life meaningful, beautiful, good and holy.

Alienation in some form or another is a part of our human experience and is a reflection of the great cosmic alienation introduced into creation by sin, the Cardinal went on to say. “What we do with these facts, how we handle them, in what context we place them, tells us a lot about ourselves,” he said. “The message of Christ tells us how to see life’s difficulties in a way that we make them a cause of grace, redemptive. What distinguishes the Christian in all of this is that we see meaning in our crosses.

“There is no escaping pain and eventual death. All humans suffer and die. It has been so from the beginning. It will continue to be so. Christ taught us how to handle this and put it into perspective.”

The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 600,000 Catholics living in Washington, DC, and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.

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