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Lent Begins as Bishop Deeley Celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass in Portland

“May Lent be for each of us that acceptable time in which we grow in our love of God and
one another so that we might wait in hope for the eternal life promised by the Lord.”
—Bishop Deeley

PORTLAND---“God has created us out of love and for love. In Jesus, he shows us the way to live. We come, in this season of Lent, to ask forgiveness for the times we have not been faithful to living as his disciples.”

Parishioners, socially distanced in the pews of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and joined by a large assembly of faithful participating via livestream, listened as Bishop Robert Deeley celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass this afternoon (additional pictures below) and marked the start of Lent, a period of prayer and penance leading up to the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection at Easter.

Due to the pandemic, protocols, as well as the blessing of technology, Ash Wednesday has never looked like this before.

“I was interviewed last week by a local TV station,” Bishop Deeley told the gathering. “The reporter was interested in knowing how our pandemic would affect our celebration of Ash Wednesday. I told her that it will be a bit different this year as has everything been over the last 11 months. We will be less people gathered. We will not have the ashes placed on our foreheads but rather sprinkled on our heads in the manner done by the Church in Italy and other places in Europe. It was probably these things that the reporter was interested in.”

But Bishop Deeley quickly pointed out, both to the media and those gathered, that the heart of what Ash Wednesday is about will never change.

“It is a call to renew ourselves in the Lord. That remains exactly the same. And, as we gather for Mass today, we are even told how to do it.”

The ashes are a reminder of where we come from, recalling how it is that we got from being dust or ashes to being vibrant human beings, created by God who cares for us.

“The ashes remind us in a concrete fashion of one of the most familiar lines in Scripture, ‘remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’ The ashes put before us our human condition and the mortality that is part of it,” said the bishop during his homily. “Today, we fully acknowledge what our contemporary world often prefers to push away: we are mortal. We die. That is what the ashes mean.”

At its core, Ash Wednesday is a recognition that death is also not the end. 

“Jesus, by his life, death, and resurrection has opened for us eternal life, a life lived in the presence of God for all eternity,” said the bishop. “Today, we acknowledge that we have a part to play in finding ourselves in the presence of God in eternity. God loves us enough to create us free to choose how we are going to live. We know that we have not always lived as God has called us to live. Jesus has set a way for us but we, at times, fail to follow his way.”

The 40 days of Lent encourage both a call to repentance and a call to work on becoming a better disciple on mission for the Lord.

“Jesus, in the Gospel, outlines the way in which our repentance is to take place. It will be in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving,” Bishop Deeley told the assembly. “Through prayer, we will understand what God wants of us, and how God wants us to live. In fasting, we will become more aware of our dependence on God, and his goodness to us, by foregoing some of those things that are an integral part of our lives. We will live with less so we can be attentive to the fullness that God alone can give us. And, finally, we will acknowledge that we do not stand alone in this world. Lent, just as is the case with life, is not just about me and God. True repentance reminds us that God in Jesus has shown us how we are to live with one another and care for the other. The Gospel always brings us in touch with each other. Lent, with its prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, reminds us of that.”

One way in which Catholics care for each other during Lent is by participating in the Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) Rice Bowl program, which benefits the poor around the world. Rice bowls, cardboard containers in which parishioners will place dollars and cents, were distributed to those who wished to take one after Mass. Bishop Deeley and priests around Maine blessed the rice bowls at Masses on Wednesday. Seventy-five percent of the money collected goes towards Catholic Relief Services’ worldwide ministry, while 25% is used within the diocese. Last year, parishioners in Maine contributed over $60,000 for the program.

The Diocese of Portland has launched a special Lent web section featuring a variety of resources to assist you on your Lenten journey. In the section, you can find Mass times; Holy Week information; Scripture study and other faith-enriching offerings at parishes, both in-person and livestreamed; virtual and in-person retreat and parish mission opportunities; a schedule of Lenten meals; confession opportunities; Stations of the Cross schedules; “Echoing God’s Word in the Catholic Community”; educational resources; “Saints of Lent”; Lectio Divina in English and Spanish; a “Sharing Our Gifts” section providing outlets for charitable giving; messages from Pope Francis and more. The section will be updated throughout Lent with updates and additional events as they are confirmed.

During Lent, you can also find news, stories, pictures, and videos from around Maine here on the diocesan website, the diocesan Facebook page, the diocesan Twitter page, the diocesan Instagram page, Bishop Deeley's Twitter page, and Bishop Deeley's Instagram page.

“May Lent be for each of us that acceptable time in which we grow in our love of God and one another so that we might wait in hope for the eternal life promised by the Lord,” said Bishop Deeley.