"Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent and the ashes, of course, take their significance again from the Old Testament imagery of mourning with sackcloth and ashes," said the Rev. Father Daniel Stack with St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, which hosted five services on Wednesday. "... The goal of all of Lent is to put our attention more on our spiritual life and a little less on our temporal life.
"I think the value of giving anything up is, hopefully, it will be a little bit like putting a little pebble in your shoe. It's a constant reminder [to] think about things that matter more, especially if you want to sacrifice something that you're very fond of but it's really not essential. You have to remember to think about the goal isn't to give it up. The goal is to think about why you're giving it up."
For Nena Jones, associate pastor for Sam Jones Memorial United Methodist Church, Lent is a time of spiritual growth.
"It's a tradition of the early church," said Jones, who was expecting an overflow crowd at Sam Jones Memorial UMC's Ash Wednesday service. "It's 40 days of repentance and preparation for Easter. And it reflects the 40 days that Jesus spent ... in the wilderness. A lot of times the church uses the 40 days of Lent as a time of spiritual renewal and in the early church a lot of times they used it as a time of preparation for confirmation to join the church.
"What we do now with it is it's the 40 days before Easter. [It] starts with Ash Wednesday and a lot of churches have Ash Wednesday services where foreheads are marked with ashes as a sign of mourning and repentance and it includes 40 days not counting Sundays and it leads us up until Easter. It's tradition from the early church and continues to be a time of preparation and spiritual growth in the current church."
In the Lenten season, the act of giving something up or taking something on is an opportunity to reflect on Jesus' sacrifice, Jones said. With this in mind, she plans to take time out of her day during Lent to pray for someone in particular.
"I actually have just had a retreat with our sixth-grade confirmation class this last weekend and one of the things that we did talk about was that Lent was going to be starting this week," Jones said. "So we had a little discussion about it. Some of the kids were like, 'I'll give up fish because I don't like fish.' ... Really what it is -- it's giving up something that will be significant and meaningful to us.
"Some of the kids talked about they were going to give up soda because they really liked soda. So [we encourage] people to think about how to make Lent meaningful versus asking them to give something up or take something on. You could take on doing something like doing an act of kindness every day for a person, making extra commitment to devotional time or a prayer time. It's something that I would encourage people to do all the time but especially concentrate during Lent on finding a way that they think is appropriate for them to recognize that period of spiritual preparation for the holy week that is to come."