Certain church traditions such as ashes on foreheads and not eating meat on Fridays are symbols associated with the season of Lent – a 40-day time of solemn introspection before the celebration of Easter.
Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Catholics across Monroe County observe Lent. The season traditionally begins on Ash Wednesday, which is Feb. 17 this year, when congregations gather to receive the annual sacrament of ashes applied to their foreheads in the form of a cross.
Sis. Mary Fellerhoff of St. Helen Catholic Church in Amory points out that the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday serves as an important tradition to begin the annual season of introspection and penance for parishioners.
“It symbolizes our relationship with God, as well as our fellow man. It is an intense time if we enter into it fully, yet it is a beautiful time to remember the supreme sacrifice of Christ on our behalf,” she said.
Fellerhoff moreover shared the ashes remind us that our earthly life should not be the most important thing to us.
While the sacrament is optional and varies in observation with different churches, its significance for a believer is shared across the church world.
For the Rev. Van Moore of First Presbyterian Church in Aberdeen, Ash Wednesday ushers in the high and holy season of the year that surpasses even Christmas.
“It’s all attached to Holy Week. It’s a time when we reflect again on the Biblical passage we often use at graveside committal – from dust we came and to dust we will return. The time leading up to Easter is the pinnacle of the year. It’s all about the resurrection,” he said.
Moore offers the imposition of ashes but has not required the sacrament of the people he serves. He cited concerns over the risk of transmitting COVID-19.
“People just don’t want to be touched, but that doesn’t diminish the significance of the meaning,” he said.
Moore carries ashes with him to use if requested. He officiates a noon-hour devotional on Ash Wednesday to launch the season for his congregation and guests, who may receive the sacrament upon request.
“Methodist preacher John Wesley said that we work out our salvation every day,” Moore said. “Ashes symbolically begin the process by encouraging us to be humbler and observant for opportunities to help others in need. Ashes help us to see this more clearly. I find it makes an amazing difference in the lives of people. There are some who will apply a bandage over the ashes to as not to wash off the spot.”
Moore offers his Wednesday noon-time devotionals year-round on Aberdeen First Presbyterian Church’s Facebook page.