Bishop O'Connell blesses the containers of ashes that were distributed during the Mass he celebrated Feb. 22 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.
Bishop O'Connell blesses the containers of ashes that were distributed during the Mass he celebrated Feb. 22 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

 In a meaningful Ash Wednesday homily, preached to several hundred of the faithful in attendance Feb. 22 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., reminded those gathered that Lent is a time for heartfelt repentance, change of heart, and conversion.

The Bishop stressed that Lent is not simply about giving up something but is also a time to give something to others, offering suggestions for how both practices can lead to prayerful Lenten observances.

PHOTO GALLERY: Ash Wednesday Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption

“Pick one thing – one sin or one fault – and concentrate on it, ask God to help you deal with it,” the Bishop said, citing impatience, being judgmental or personal vices as examples of things to give up.

When it comes to giving, Bishop O’Connell recommended time, “something that is very precious to all of us.”  He emphasized that spending time with God “is time well spent – to be in the presence of God is a good thing.”

The Bishop encouraged the congregation to do something good for someone else every day, to “call someone who needs you to listen to them or give to a charity.”

Bishop O’Connell reiterated that the Lenten season is a time to go to Confession and “give up your sins. Ask the Lord to forgive your sins,” even if there is a hesitancy about going to Confession, especially if there has been a lapse in receiving the sacrament, no matter how long.  “Now is the time,” stressed the Bishop.

After the reception of Holy Communion, Bishop O’Connell blessed the ashes that were in several small containers. The ashes are made by burning the palms blessed on Palm Sunday last year. The imposition of ashes replicates an ancient penitential practice and symbolizes the faithful’s dependence upon God’s mercy and forgiveness. Ashes also serve as a reminder to people that their life on earth will come to an end and that eternal life with God will then begin.

After blessing the ashes, Msgr. Joseph Roldan, Cathedral rector, imposed ashes on Bishop O’Connell’s forehead. After Bishop imposed ashes on Msgr. Roldan and the other clergy and altar servers in the sanctuary, the ashes were distributed to the congregation. The Sign of the Cross was made on each recipient’s forehead and the words, “Turn away from sin and remain faithful to the Gospel” or “You are dust and to dust you shall return,” were said.

In his homily, the Bishop spoke of how ashes are an ancient symbol, cultural and biblical, for showing grief, and noted that in the Old Testament, there are many occasions referenced when ashes are used for that purpose.

Similarly, in Christian traditions, including in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and the writings of the early church fathers, ashes were referred to as a sign of penance and repentance of sins.

“The practice of placing ashes on our heads became commonplace in the Catholic Church in the 10th century as a liturgical symbol marking the beginning of Lent, the Church’s period of penance,” the Bishop said.

“Giving up and giving,” Bishop O’Connell repeated, and in receiving ashes, you will “show the world who you are and what you are as a follower of Christ.”

Bishop O’Connell’s homily resonated with Tom Carr of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton.

“One of my goals for Lent is to do more for others as much as I can,” Carr said, sharing that he was going to “try to be nicer. I’m not saying that I’m not nice but … I can improve.”

Crystal Zayas, a lifelong member of the Cathedral who attended the Mass with family, acknowledged the importance of Lent as “a time to reflect and prepare for Jesus’ Death and Resurrection.”

Sally Ruano, who currently attends St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Yardville, and is a state employee, was happy to visit the Cathedral for the first time and attend Ash Wednesday Mass with the Bishop.

“This is a time of reflection,” she said, noting that she always finds hearing the words “You are dust and to dust you shall return” to be a “powerful reminder” of what is to come.