HARRISON, N.Y. – Dark smudges were seen on foreheads all around Harrison Wednesday as Christians celebrated Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season.
Monsignor Francis McAree, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Church in Harrison, said it is one of the most important days on the Catholic calendar.
“Lent reminds us of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert fasting and praying,” he said. “It’s the ability to call people to look towards a higher realm, to look towards their eternal destiny, and to give them an external symbol of that by the placement of ashes.”
There were three masses and two services at St. Gregory the Great Church, giving parishioners five opportunities to receive ashes. McAree received his ashes at the 6:45 a.m. Mass, which he presided over and which, he said, had 300 in attendance.
Ashes were also given at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. McAree said he divides the masses with three other parish priests.
The pastor said what people give up for Lent depends on the individual.
“It can be giving up something not just for the sake of deprivation," he said, "but for the sake of making a gift to God of it – a sacrifice – and also it can be something positive like trying to do a good work for someone else, kindness to the neighbor or some type of charitable act.”
He added that a charitable act is perfect because alms giving is one of three pillars of the Lenten season, along with prayer and fasting.
While some might consider Christmas the church's most important feast, McAree said, that honor goes to Easter because it commemorates the resurrection of Christ.