Today marks the start of Lent, an annual period of sacrifice and reflection that lasts for 40 days, not counting Sundays, leading up to Easter.
Fr. Ross Miceli, campus minister at Elk County Catholic High School, explained that Sundays are not counted because "if you do the math, you end up with like 46 days before Easter, so you can't count Sundays."
"Sundays are always a celebration of the Resurrection, even during Lent," Miceli said. "Sunday is supposed to be a time of celebration. Some people traditionally celebrate perhaps what they gave up during Lent. If you gave up candy, on Sunday you could have candy. If you gave up pop, soda, or whatever people call it, you could have that on Sunday, again to commemorate the Resurrection, not for any other vain reasons."
As far as Ash Wednesday is concerned, Miceli explained that the event is an ancient tradition dating back to Old Testament times.
"People would mark themselves with ashes as a sign of repentance. It's a nice, public symbol. Traditionally it was done on the head, so they would put ashes on the top of your head. Then it became kind of more stylized to mark the ashes on the forehead as a sign for people to see that you are being marked as a Christian," Miceli said.
The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are usually made from the palms from the Palm Sunday of the previous year, according to Miceli. He added that they are also distributed on a person's forehead in the shape of a cross.
In addition to receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday, another common Lenten practice is for individuals to choose to give up or go without something for the Lenten season.
"When you go without something, it makes you more conscious. It makes you more aware of your surroundings. Lent is really a time of awareness - awareness in terms of who we are as people created in God's image and likeness, but also in terms of the needs of our world," Miceli said. "It has an introspective nature to it, but at the same time it's supposed to broaden our horizons and make us more aware of our local community, and of course the entire world and the needs of everybody."
Pick up a copy of the Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.