LOS ANGELES -- Christians throughout the Southland are observing Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, when the faithful prepare for Easter by doing penance for sins and seek spiritual renewal through prayer, self-denial and good works.
Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes of the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance.
A minister or priest marks the forehead of each participant with black ashes in the shape of a cross, which the worshipper traditionally retains until washing it off after sundown.
In the Roman Catholic church, Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting, abstinence from meat and repentance. Other Christian denominations make fasting optional, with the main focus being on repentance.
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Cardinal Roger Mahony, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, will celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass at noon in English and 7 p.m. in Spanish at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, where Mass will be also celebrated in English at 6:15 a.m., 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 3 p.m. and 5:15 p.m.
In his Lenten message, Mahony made frequent references to the recession, declaring that with so many in the region facing economic hardships, Lent in 2009 is "unique and gives us the opportunity to enter this year's Lenten journey from a fresh and life-giving spirit."
Mahony pledged that "for Lent 2009, each day I intend to offer my prayers and sacrifices of that day for a special group of co-disciples with Jesus -- those who are out of work, families who have lost homes, parents who fear that they won't have the money needed for their children, the many who have lost health insurance, the retired people whose retirement funds have been severely diminished and all who fear each tomorrow."
The 72-year-old prelate adopted a tone of melancholy resignation in apparently alluding to the continuing aftermath of the clergy abuse scandal, which prompted the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to reach an unprecedented $660 million settlement with 508 alleged victims.
"For me personally, this Lent means embracing the new wearisome burdens, difficulties, and unexpected hardships that have confronted me on my journey of life and faith," the cardinal wrote in his Lenten message. "I can't pretend that these difficult burdens aren't there, nor can I try to somehow sneak around them and move on..."