In parishes around the Diocese, Ash Wednesday was observed in various ways, giving the faithful many opportunities to gather in prayer on the first day of Lent.

PHOTO GALLERY: Ash Wednesday in St. Michael Church, West End

Some parishes scheduled more Masses, while other parishes held a mix of Masses and prayer services. Most Catholic school students and their teachers received ashes during Mass in the parish church, though some schools elected to have a priest or deacon visit the school and lead prayer services in the classrooms.

For many years in St. Michael Parish, West End, it has been the tradition to direct the evening Mass on Ash Wednesday toward children and families, according to Father John Butler, pastor.

The tradition was started by Patty Chavez, a former catechist and coordinator of religious education who served St. Michael Parish for some 32 years. During such Masses, families proclaim the Readings, participate n the Presentation of the Gifts and assist with other liturgical functions, Father Butler said.

“It’s important for our families to attend all Masses together as frequently as possible on Ash Wednesday as well as on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation,” Father Butler said, adding that throughout the year, there are plenty of other opportunities where families are encouraged to attend Mass and other liturgical celebrations together.

Among the families who began their Lenten journey in St. Michael Church on Ash Wednesday evening were Dulce and Freddie Arce and their 11-year-old daughter, Olivia, who proclaimed the Readings.

“Lent is a time to help us grow closer to God as a family,” said Dulce Arce.

“It’s also a time for us to remember the humility of Jesus as he prepared to endure his Passion and Death,” she said, noting that the family keeps the three Lenten pillars close in mind – prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Along with praying together as a family, the Arces also perform works of service such as visiting and assisting elderly persons.

“The experience of the family worshiping, praying and receiving the Sacraments together strengthens the family’s bond of faith and reinforces in the children an appreciation of the necessity of and benefits of attending the Mass faithfully,” Father Butler said, “not as a task or as a burden.

“The family attendance at Mass, specifically Ash Wednesday, helps the children to see the value in taking time out during mid-week to attend Mass on a special, non-Sunday occasion and to learn from the parents (and from the homily) the purpose and meaning of the ashes and Lent,” Father Butler said.