Christians throughout the Southland will observe Ash Wednesday today, ushering in the 40-day season of Lent, when the faithful prepare for Easter by doing penance for sins and seeking spiritual renewal through prayer, discipline and good works.
Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of penance. A minister or priest marks the forehead of each participant with black ashes in the shape of a cross.
In the Roman Catholic church, individuals are told as the ashes are applied to their foreheads, "Turn from sin and live the Gospel.''
Catholics observe Ash Wednesday by fasting, abstaining from meat and repenting. Other Christian denominations make fasting optional, with the main focus being on repentance.
The Rev. Jose H. Gomez, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, will celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass at noon at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. The Mass will be streamed live on facebook.com/olacathedral and www.olacathedral.org/live.
Mass will be also celebrated at the cathedral in English at 6:15, 7 and 8 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. and at 7 p.m. in Spanish. A bilingual Liturgy of the Word will be celebrated at 3 p.m.
Ashes will be distributed during all services. There is a flat $10 parking fee at the cathedral today.
"We are invited on Ash Wednesday to remember our mortality,'' Gomez said. "We are invited to remember that we are only here on this Earth for just a little while and then we are gone. We are dust. And to dust we will return.
"So it is an invitation to truly live as God wants us to live -- with joy and love and trying to grow in holiness and share God's mercy and compassion to others. I pray that these 40 days will be a beautiful time of prayer and renewal for the whole family of God here in Los Angeles.''