At St. Sylvester Church, the traditional practice of "giving up" something for Lent does not focus on the material things we crave.
"Instead of abstaining from chocolate, we will look at those habits that keep us from living Christ's life each day," the Rev. John M. Bachkay of the Brentwood church said.
It is one of the themes that distinguishes local churches in their annual observance of the holy season of Lent, which in Western Christianity, begins on Ash Wednesday -- Feb. 13 this year.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Christians' Lenten journey in which they spiritually accompany Jesus in his fast of 40 days until Easter.
The day is named for the practice of marking a worshipper's forehead with ashes in the shape of a cross to signify repentance.
Ashes also symbolize that man is made from dust and will return to it. But in the interim, Father Bachkay said, we need to examine ourselves and make changes so that when the end comes we are prepared to meet our maker.
At St. Sylvester, ashes will be distributed at 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Masses, as well as after a noon prayer service.
The church's Lenten theme of "looking at daily habits of the heart that delude our desire to follow Christ" -- as Father Bachkay said -- will culminate in a three-part series of presentations, each starting at 7 p.m.: Fasting from Fears, Feb. 20; Fasting from Judgment, Feb. 27; and Fasting from Resentment, March 6.
At St. Albert the Great in Baldwin Borough, the Rev. James R. Orr is unsure of what words he will actually say in his Ash Wednesday sermon, but he is certain of the message.
"The day reminds us of eternal truths and the most fundamental truth that we are pilgrims on this earth and our time is temporary and our permanent time is in the kingdom of heaven," he said. "On Ash Wednesday, we are called to take stock and see how well we are on the path to the kingdom of heaven and how we may have strayed from the path."
At St. Albert the Great, ashes will be distributed at Mass at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. and during a 4 p.m. Liturgy of the Word.
At Holy Trinity and St. Agnes, both in West Mifflin, services will include the stations of the cross every Wednesday and Friday during Lent.
"Lent is a time of sacrifice and striving to be closer to Christ, to carry out his will and alms giving," the Rev. Joseph Grosko, said of his Ash Wednesday sermon.
"I will also be reminding people that each of us has immortality; I will talk about Lent so we can understand it better and fulfill what is expected of us by Jesus."
Ashes will be administered at 2:30 p.m. at St. Agnes and at 4 p.m. at Holy Trinity. Masses with ashes also will be celebrated at the 8:15 a.m. service with schoolchildren at St. Agnes and also at 7 p.m. at St. Agnes. The Mass at Holy Trinity will be at 6 p.m.
The priests remind parishioners that most Catholics on Ash Wednesday must fast and abstain from eating meat.
To that end, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God in Castle Shannon offers its customary Ash Wednesday takeout fare from 3 to 6 p.m. The menu includes the noodle dish haluski and a meatless vegetable lentil soup. The sale benefit the sisters and their ministries.
Lunch is $5 per quart, cash or check. Orders must be made today at 412-885-7232.
At the United Methodist churches in the South Hills partnership -- Spencer, Castle Shannon, Hilltop, Fairhaven, Crafton and Carnegie -- parishioners prepare for the holy season with Shrove Tuesday on the day before Ash Wednesday.
"It is a blast, the 'funnest' night of the year," the Rev. Joseph Yurko of the partnership churches said.
The annual festival will be held at 7 p.m. at Fairhaven United Methodist Church in Overbrook. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to bring a decadent dessert. Gifts that those attending received during the year but have no use for will be auctioned.
Shrove Tuesday is also known as Fat Tuesday, when people indulge in all they are giving up.
"It is a great way to get ready for Lent," Father Yurko said.
All proceeds benefit the partnership's Uganda mission, and the "First Food and Friends" program for homeless people in the area is conducted by the First United Methodist Church of Pittsburgh in Shadyside.
The Ash Wednesday service will be held at 7 p.m. at Fairhaven United Methodist Church.
Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.