Ash Wednesday observances begin season of repentance

By Matt Porter

March 5, 2014 Updated Mar 6, 2014 at 9:45 AM EDT

Johnson City, NY (WBNG Binghamton) For parishioners at Saint James Catholic Church, attending mass on Ash Wednesday is automatic.

"It's something that you grow up with, that you're taught, and your faith, and your conscience," said Carol Zurenda of Binghamton. "You just do it."

Ash Wednesday is a day most Catholics will attend mass, and important for many other Christians. This begins the season of Lent where Christians make life sacrifices in preparation for Easter.

"It's a time of reflection and a time of thought," said parishioner William Gibson of Johnson City. "It's taking stock and seeing where you're at."

Sacrifices range from abstaining from meat to changing habits like smoking or spending too much time on websites like Facebook.

Father John Donovan said making sacrifices is part of being repentant.

"It's a penitential season asking for forgiveness of sins, but also repent, and repent meaning it's time to make change," Donovan said.

And the ashes, they come from the first century concept of sin when churchgoers would kneel in ash upon entering the church as a visual connection to their sins and hell.

"It takes us to the idea of the fires of hell," Donovan said. "That's where the ashes would come."

For Christians who make a small sacrifice during Lent, it pays homage to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ's death on the cross.

"Whether it be the small personal things, or the attitude of things within our personal lives," Donovan said. "So that we may be more reflective of living like Christ and being images of Christ."

For some parishioners including Fran Lake, of Johnson City, Lent is deeply personal.

"I will be thinking about how fortunate I am," Lake said. "I will be praying for people who aren't. I have friends who are really suffering. So it's hard, very hard."

The season of Lent continues for 40 days until Easter Sunday on April 20.