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Ash Wednesday leaves sign of faith on Christian foreheads

COWANSHANNOCK -- Parishioners of St. Mary Mother of God Church in Yatesboro were among the millions of Christians around the world who attended Ash Wednesday services yesterday marking the beginning of the 40-day Lenten season.

The Rev. Daniel L. Blout, pastor of St. Mary, Mother of God, Church here and St. Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Parish in Kittanning, said that when people receive the ashes on their foreheads "it is really a deep sign of human nature, of the need for God's grace to turn away from sin."

Ash Wednesday is a time of reflection for many who accept the dark smudge on their forehead and hear the words: "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return."

In Pope Benedict XVI's Lenten Message, he calls Lent a journey "marked by prayer and sharing, silence and fasting, in anticipation of the joy of Easter."

For centuries, Ash Wednesday has been a day of fast and abstinence for Catholics.

According to an article posted on www.AmericanCatholic.org by the Rev. Lawrence E. Mick of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, the earliest recorded Ash Wednesday liturgy was in the year 960.

He noted that the custom did not become widespread among Catholics until the end of the 11th century under Pope Urban II. A century later, Catholics began rendering ashes from the burned palm branches used during the previous Palm Sunday.

This custom continues today and parishioners are invited to bring palms, saved from the previous year, to church before Lent begins for a ritual burning of the leaves.

With the Ash Wednesday Masses and church services, Blout said, he is surprised by the number of people who come out every year for the distribution of ashes.

"Faith is alive and well," he said.

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