ALAMO — “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
Such is the spiritual sentiment that Christians exhibited throughout the world on Ash Wednesday — a sacramental day that marks the beginning of the Lenten season and ends on Easter Sunday.
Ash Wednesday is observed with special Masses held throughout the day, and with the traditional marking of the cross with ashes on parishioners’ foreheads.
The day also consists of prayer and fasting, as well as the beginning of a sacrificial period in which parishioners don’t eat meat, or make some other sacrifice, on Fridays.
And this devotion was on full display in Alamo, where local residents joined the Rio Grande Valley’s deeply devout community in observing the long-held custom.
“It’s a very good particular sign that we put on our foreheads, and it’s telling us, reminding us that we have a special season,” said Father Rene Angel of Resurrection Catholic Church in Alamo. “It’s the opening point, that’s why many people are taking the ashes. Even non-Catholics are taking the ashes. There’s no problem with that because it’s not a sacrament, it’s a sacramental. It’s like holy water, anybody can take it. There’s no restrictions in that.”
The ashes placed on parishioners’ foreheads are made from the blessed palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday.
“We bless the palms on Palm Sunday. We use them for that day, and then for the following year we process them in order to have the ashes,” Angel said. “There is an idea of some people that it is from dead people. No, not at all. These are ashes from the palms blessed in the previous year.”
The priest said that the ashes on one’s forehead is to serve as a reminder that human beings come from dust, and will eventually return to dust at the end of one’s life.
“We have to remember that first of all we are dust,” Angel explained. “When we were made, as the Bible says in the book of Genesis, God was putting together a clay from the dust, made the human beings, and we started from there. We are coming from the dust, and to that dust we are going to go back. This is about the ashes.”
Angel explained that Lent is a time to be charitable and to help others, particularly the poor, the elderly, the sick, and visiting loved ones who have died.
The church began giving out the ashes at 6:30 a.m., and planned to continue doing so until 11 p.m. Father Angel estimated that over 6,000 individuals would receive the ashes by the end of the day.
Arturo Escobedo is one of 16 Eucharistic ministers who helps pass out the ashes on Ash Wednesday. He said that he has been a Eucharistic minister for 46 years.
He helped distribute the ashes at 6:30 a.m. before the 7 a.m. Mass.
“Normally we try to get (parishioners) to come early because in the evening this place is packed,” Escobedo said. “This parish holds about 300, or a little bit more, and it’s full.”
Escobedo said that following the morning Mass, he’ll travel to places where individuals who are unable to make the trip to the church can receive the ashes.
“I went to the elderly who can’t come to Mass,” Escobedo said. “The hospitals, they always call me. It’s a busy day.”