Hundreds of thousands of Catholics will gather in churches across the four counties of the Diocese of Trenton March 2 to commemorate Ash Wednesday, receive their ashes and begin the 40-day penitential season of Lent.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., will celebrate Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, beginning at 12:10 p.m.  Ashes will be distributed to the congregants. All are welcome.

Lent is the period of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday), April 14 this year. It's a time of preparation to celebrate the Lord's Resurrection at Easter.

In a letter to parishes issuing the annual guidelines for Lent, Bishop O’Connell wrote, “The Catholic Church throughout the world commemorates the penitential season of Lent ending with the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week. The model Jesus gave us for ‘these 40 days’ was his own experience in the desert and the temptations that followed him there where he encountered Satan face to face.  And yet, Jesus, there in the desert – alone, fasting and in intense prayer – beat back the devil and triumphed over temptation, as strong and as unrelenting as it was throughout those 40 days.

“We enter the desert of Lent like Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, to face our devils, our temptations head on.  But we are not alone.  The Lord Jesus Christ is with us.  And so, too, is the Church, the entire community of faith observing Lent,” the Bishop concluded.   

Here are some of the requirements for Lent established by the Catholic Church in the United States (for a full listing of the Lenten Guidelines, visit dioceseoftrenton.org/lenten-guidelines)

  • The days of FAST (only one full meal) and ABSTINENCE (no meat) are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
  • All other Fridays of Lent are days of ABSTINENCE (no meat).
  • Those who are automatically dispensed from fast and abstinence regulations outside the age limits noted below include: the physically or mentally ill, especially individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes.  Also included in the dispensation are women who are pregnant or nursing.  In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fasting (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).
  • Those between the ages of 18 and 59 are obliged to FAST (only one full meal) as above.  From the age of 14, people are also obliged to ABSTAIN (no meat: this obligation prohibits the eating of meat, but not eggs, milk products or condiments of any kind, even though made from animal fat).

Bishop O’Connell encouraged all Catholics, especially those conscious of serious sin, “to go to Confession and to make use of the sacrifices and traditions that have always been part of our Lenten practices in the Church.”

He added, “We do, indeed, fast and pray with the Lord Jesus and with our fellow Catholics.  May this Lent be a time of penance leading to grace and joy for us all at Easter.”