Practicing penitence after Ash Wednesday

Magdalena Whittaker, left, and Bren Miller wear ash crosses on their foreheads at the Front Royal Daily Grind after worshipping at an afternoon Ash Wednesday Mass at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Front Royal. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Many Christians brought in the liturgical season of Lent this week at Ash Wednesday services, solemnly reflecting on mortality before the traditional period of fasting.

The Rev. Robert Hoskins Jr. planned to lead a 7 p.m. Ash Wednesday service at Woodstock United Methodist Church, speaking about the ways that Christians can go AWOL throughout the year and need to return to faithful worship. He said Ash Wednesday services set the tone for Lent – a time to repent and recognize the temptations of sin.

“It’s a challenge to Christians to come back into the fold,” he said. “They’ve been led astray.”

Woodstock United Methodist will host Lenten services at noon each Tuesday for the Woodstock Ministerial Association. Different clergy from Woodstock area churches will lead the services, and Hoskins said the tradition offers a look into how different denominations worship. The church will also hold Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services at the close of Lent before Easter.

After leaving services, some churchgoers go about the rest of their day still wearing the ashes imparted on their forehead, usually in the shape of a cross. After attending Saint John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church’s 12:15 p.m. Mass, Bren Miller said he doesn’t give wearing the ash cross a second thought.

“It doesn’t really bother me – I mean, I’m not ashamed to be Catholic,” he said. “It’s not like the other end either, where I’m showing off … it is what it is.”

Magdalena Whittaker, a student at Christendom College who also attended Mass at Saint John the Baptist, said that the service serves as a reminder of mortality – but not in a negative light.

“For me personally, it just helps me to be grounded,” she said.

Some people choose to give up something or make a resolution for Lent, whether deciding to cut out unhealthy foods or abandoning a vice. Whittaker said she won’t be wearing makeup and will aim to pray daily. Miller said he’s given up smoking for Lent – something he’s done in previous years, usually along with a few other resolutions.

“Sometimes I won’t even make it through Lent,” he said. “This Lent, that’s my main focus.”

Miller said he sees the tradition as a religious expression of “man versus self,” and Whittaker said she can always find some way to “fast” – if not from foods, then from other comforts like hot showers.

“I usually just try to do something for my body and something for my soul,” she said. “For me, it’s trying to focus more on the spiritual part of it.”

Hoskins said that resolutions for the 40 days of Lent serve as reminders for people to “repent and believe in the Gospel.”

“We’re not doing it for show – this is more like letting your life speak the message,” he said. “You give up the things and replace them with something that can help you grow in your faith.”

Through prayer and fasting, Hoskins said Christians seek religious guidance throughout Lent, working toward the cross during Holy Week until the bright celebration of Easter and Jesus’ resurrection.

“It’s a season of penitence, basically,” Hoskins said. “The important thing to me is reading about it in God’s holy word … it’s the mark of a new beginning.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com