Father John Giuliani used plain language Wednesday morning to tell more than 700 people at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church the true purpose of Lent.
Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season for Christians around the world. During the 40 days leading up to Easter – the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion – Roman Catholics and many Protestant denominations put a renewed focus on service to community and repentance.
The goal, Giuliani said from the pulpit, is for all Christians to “look into our own hearts.”
“We all know we can do better,” he said. “This is when we start to do better.”
The message at St. Philip Neri was not just a Catholic ideal, but a Christian ideal, Giuliani told the crowd. Giving of spirit, giving of alms to the poor, giving of self to others, should be done without fanfare, he said, “or blowing of trumpets” to draw attention to the act of giving.
“Christian service is always the right thing to do,” Giuliani told the nodding crowd.
On Ash Wednesday, ashes are used to mark foreheads of the faithful with the sign of the cross, often while paraphrasing Genesis 3:19: “Remember that you are dust; and to dust you shall return.”
“This is a wonderful day, a day of love,” Giuliani said after the service. “It begins the holy season.”
Ash Wednesday services were held throughout the day at churches of many denominations, including Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches. It is one of the most solemn days in Christianity, a reminder that all people are the same in the eyes of God.
At St. Philip Neri, the service took on an even deeper significance as it marked the first Ash Wednesday service in the parish’s multi-million dollar sanctuary. The building opened in 2013 after decades of raising money for a new church to serve Fort Mill and northern York County’s influx of Catholics, many of whom have moved here from other states in the past two decades.
Sandie and Thom Amersbach volunteered at the Ash Wednesday service, marking the faithful with ashes after receiving the ashes themselves from Father Giuliani.
“This is the beginning of Lent and confirms a belief in God and Jesus,” said Sandie Amersbach, “that all of us who believe in them are human.”
Thom Amersbach called it “a sincere and meaningful privilege to be a part of the Ash Wednesday services that are holy around the world.”
After receiving the ashes on her forehead, Susan McCray reflected on what the practice means to her.
“For all Christians today, these ashes right here on my forehead signify that Jesus Christ died on the cross for each of us,” she said. “For all of us.”
Helen Corcoran did not let her walker get in the way of receiving ashes. Lent is also when people give up something to show faith, she said, so she’s giving up soda for 40 days.
“This is the time when the sacrifice of his own life by Jesus Christ for each and every one of us is even more important,” Corcoran said.
Kathy Vandenberg said that the ashes – and the entire season of Lent – remind Christians that they are created by God, and must serve God and community.
“The message that we shall all return to dust and must face God is important, and it is universal,” Vandenberg said. “What we did here today, people are doing all over this country and the world today.
“We are all equal before God.”