Beginning a Lenten life

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 26, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Worshippers gathered at noon yesterday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Ash Wednesday, where the faithful had their foreheads marked with ashes to observe the beginning of the 40-day Lenten season.

Father Lou Rouff, the spiritual leader of the congregation, gently dabbed his finger in ashes and then marked a cross on each person’s forehead to signify that he or she belongs to Jesus Christ.

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Speaking softly, the priest told the congregation the story of Cain as he murdered his brother, Abel. God marked Cain’s forehead and sent him to roam the country. God also said that Cain was not to be harmed and that any man who saw the mark was to understand that Cain was God’s property. So, also, do the people who accept the ash markings on their foreheads believe that they are God’s children.

Ash Wednesday originated in the A.D. 900s, long after Europe had been Christianized.

Originally known as &uot;Day of Ashes,&uot; it always falls on a Wednesday, exactly 40 days before Good Friday.

As Father Rouff spoke, candlelight flickered in front of the huge mosaic of Christ crucified on the cross. Mary and Joseph, heads bowed, stand at the foot of the cross and the scene appears to be illuminated from behind as a golden halo of light shines forth from the heavens behind the cross.

Rouff noted that while so many people are discussing the new Mel Gibson production, &uot;The Passion of the Christ,&uot; he is remembering the violence of Sept. 11, 2002.

&uot;I remember reading in Newsweek magazine, the headlines, ‘Ash Tuesday,’&uot; he told the congregation. &uot;We saw the pictures on the TV and in the still photos of people covered in ashes, and yet they will rebuild, after several years, that place in New York.

&uot;I think that this shows no matter how strong sin is to us…no matter how much we fail and falter, we can rise above it all.&uot;

The priest added that no true believer has to view the $25 million film to know of the horrors Jesus must have endured.

&uot;We see it (the horrors) day in and day out in our lives,&uot; said Rouff. &uot;Cancer… those who are killed in car accidents… we see it everyday. We also see the love of Jesus Christ and people are healed.

&uot;Because of the passion of Christ, we use the symbol of the cross with the ashes to signify that we can rise again… We have hope, and we will all walk away from the grave.&uot;

After the priest invited congregation members to come to the alter to accept the mark of the cross, he also offered them the communion cup and the bread.

After the service, Pat and Floyd Hoover were among the group leaving the sanctuary in quiet reflection.

&uot;We have been here for about 20 years, but we came from Sacred Heart in Norfolk before that,&uot; said Pat Hoover. &uot;Taking the mark of Christ, the ashes, is something that I’ve always done. It just makes you feel so good that you profess your love of Christ to the world.&uot;

Joseph Silberholz is new to St. Mary’s, however, he’s a devout Catholic and believes in the symbolism of Ash Wednesday.

&uot;It’s a new start each year – a time to start all over with the things you didn’t do last year,&uot; said Silberholz. &uot;It’s a new beginning and I am grateful for that.&uot;

Michelle Turner, of the U.S. Navy, said she took the mark of the cross and proudly wears it along with her uniform.

&uot;It’s especially important to me since I just had a child,&uot; she said. &uot;I’m trying to set examples for my child to live by. As for the mark with my uniform, the Navy has no objection if I wear it with my uniform.&uot;

Dorothy Coggswell, the coordinator of religious education at St. Mary’s, holds Ash Wednesday in high regard and uses it for personal reflection.

&uot;It allows me time to see what I can do to make myself a better person,&uot; she said. &uot;Not only for myself but also for my family, the people I work with and the community.

&uot;This special time is a great opportunity for me to dig really deep and see where I can make changes for the better.&uot;