Churches in East explore core of faith during Lent

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At St. Bernadette Church in Monroeville, the traditional practice of giving up a treat is not the only thing parishioners will be called upon to do during Lent. “At the same time, they should engage in more acts of charity,” the Rev. Tony Gargotta suggested.

Another message he plans to convey during the upcoming season of Lent is: Dying and Rising with Christ.

“Christ came as one of us so he could experience our temptations. We can pray to him as he understands what we feel. If we allow him to strengthen us, when we die we will rise with him,” Father Gargotta said.

The annual observance of Lent in Western Christianity begins on Ash Wednesday, or 46 days before Easter on the civil calendar.

However, in the liturgical calendar, it is 40 days before Easter because Sundays are excluded, they are considered “mini-Easters” that celebrate the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus every week, said the Rev. Tom Galvin of St. John the Baptist Church in Plum.

This year, Ash Wednesday is next week and Easter is on April 20.

In Byzantine Catholic churches, Lent is called the Great Fast and begins two days earlier, on Monday. The Great Fast has more rigorous Lenten practices.

At St. Bernadette, Ash Wednesday Masses, with the distribution of ashes, will be held at 7:15 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. The Liturgy of the Word, with ashes but no Eucharist, will take place at 12:30 p.m.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of believers' Lenten journey in which they spiritually accompany Jesus in his 40 days of fasting in the desert.

It is a movable feast that occurs 46 days before Easter; it can fall as early as Feb. 4 and as late as March 10.

It is named for the symbolic practice of marking a worshiper’s forehead with ashes in the shape of a cross to signify repentance. Some Christians believe ashes symbolize our mortality as we are from dust, and will return to it until we are raised up by Christ.

While all Roman Catholic churches distribute ashes, other Christian churches' observances vary with their congregations.

Father Galvin said the interim between Ash Wednesday and Easter is a time to examine ourselves and make changes “so that we can grow in our knowledge and understanding and sharing of the love of God.”

At St. John the Baptist, Masses with ashes will be held at 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 4 p.m., and 7 p.m.

Father Galvin said his Lenten theme will pose the question: “For the love of God, I'll do ...?”

“To answer, we have to ask ourselves things such as, ‘When am I ready to change? How can I refocus my mind and redirect my heart to do what Christ did for us?’ ” The ultimate goal is complete oneness with God, he said.

At First Presbyterian Church of Greensburg, there will be a 7:30 p.m. service without ashes on Ash Wednesday.

“I will encourage taking on a spiritual discipline, such as reading Scripture and praying daily which, hopefully, will become a practice they will carry on,” the Rev. Martin Ankrum said of his Ash Wednesday message to his congregation.

There also will be a midweek chapel service at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays during Lent.

“Lent is a time of repentance. With honesty we confess our sins to God and seek reconciliation through Christ,” Rev. Ankrum said.

At Calvary Lutheran Church in Murrysville, there will be the traditional distribution of ashes at a 7 p.m. service.

The Rev. David Weeks said his Lenten theme will be the foundation of our beliefs.

“I will be talking about the basic issues of our Christian faith, and how those beliefs engage the world,” he said.

In Irwin, community midweek Lenten services will be held at First United Church of Christ on the seven Wednesdays in Lent at 11:30 a.m., followed by lunch at 12:30 p.m.

The services are sponsored by the Norwin Men's Prayer Fellowship.

The theme of the services will be the questions asked of Jesus in the last week, such as “Art Thou a King?” on Wednesday; “Which is the great commandment?” on April 2; and “Art Thou the Son of God?” on April 16.

The speakers will be a different local minister each week.

Midweek Lenten services also will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesdays at Shadyside Presbyterian Church through April 9.

During these sessions, selections from the book of Isaiah will be explored in which the prophet promised his people a savior was to come.

The 45-minute candlelight services in the sanctuary will include communion, homily and music by the Shadyside Strings, Chatham Baroque and Chancel Choir soloists. The 11 a.m. services on Sundays will focus on the new life that Christ offers to us now and for all time.

On Ash Wednesday at First United Methodist Church in Greensburg, there will be a 9:30 a.m. prayer breakfast for United Methodist women.

A noon service, with ashes, will begin a Wednesday Lenten lunch series, “Oh, the Bliss,” based on the Beatitudes, and with different speakers each week. A 7 p.m. service with ashes and the Eucharist will feature a sermon on prayer and fasting.

The Rev. W. Stephen Morse said “Grace Anatomy” will be his Sunday theme during Lent.

“Lent is a time of self-examination in preparation for Easter,” he said.“Grace is God’s unmerited favor. In preparation for Easter, we want to look at why God favors us.”

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:

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