Lenten observance starts

Season: As many people fast to grow as Christians, an Ellicott City church's calendar reflects the growth of its congregation.

March 10, 2000|By Jean Leslie | Jean Leslie,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Thousands of Howard County Christians celebrated Ash Wednesday this week, marking the beginning the Lenten season of penitence, fasting and abstinence that commemorates Christ's 40 days of fasting and temptations in the desert.

The symbol of ashes is borrowed from the Jews, who from ancient times combined ashes with sackcloth to indicate penitence or sorrow for one's sins. Ellicott City's Church of the Resurrection began Lent with a schedule of four Masses, including a morning Mass for children in its school.

"Ashes remind us that we were created by God, and we can direct our lives toward God, fulfilling our purpose as human beings," explains the Rev. Ray Martin of the Resurrection church.

Lent runs for 40 days, from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, and mathematically does not include the six Sundays in between. However, some denominations include Sundays for penitence. Christians from many denominations -- Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal and Orthodox faiths -- fast during Lent.

Among other fasting practices, Roman Catholics abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and each Friday during Lent. Church of the Resurrection sponsors a parishwide Friday Fish Fry, a family event that also raises funds for Christian charities. The 6 p.m. fish-and-chips meal is followed by a review of the Stations of the Cross at 7: 30 p.m -- placing the focus on spiritual, as well as social, interactions.

As Lent continues, the church adds religious services to its schedule. A Lenten service is offered at 9 each moring in the chapel. Every Monday the congregation gathers in evening prayer at 7: 30 and each Wednesday a Mass is celebrated in the church. All are in preparation for Easter with prayer, fasting and gifts to the poor.

Church of the Resurrection is the 25-year-old daughter church of the historic St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Ellicott City. It spun off to enable the building of Resurrection St. Paul's Catholic School, which this year is educating 326 children in kindergarten through eighth grade.

But with the rapid growth in residential Ellicott City and surrounding areas, Church of the Resurrection has grown accordingly. Numbers tell the story: More than 3,700 families belong to Church of the Resurrection. It supports three priests -- Martin, Jim McGovern and Tim Fell -- a deacon, Ray Britt, and a transitional deacon, John McDonough, who will be going into the priesthood.

The church has long outgrown its original sanctuary, which was intended to be the school's multipurpose room. A seven-year construction project beginning this fall will include a second floor on the school, a gymnasium and parish hall, and a sanctuary to seat 1,200 people.

Despite the parish's large size, Martin sees signs of community. "I have noticed a deep desire of people to gather in prayer. This is not a `tank up and leave' church, but a church with deep roots in the Ellicott City community."

One way the church maintains the sense of community is through lay involvement. Two hundred lay ministers volunteer their support by reading during Mass or helping to serve Communion, while hundreds of others assist in other capacities.

At the 6: 30 a.m. Ash Wednesday service, Katherine Regan, Nancy Perry, Jan Hansen, Donna Cookson, Ruth and Jack Kellerman and McGovern worked together to present the service to about 100 congregants. The priest and lay ministers dipped their thumbs into a plate of blessed ashes and drew a cross on each congregant's forehead, saying: "Remember: You are dust and unto dust you will return."

The ashes used Wednesday had a joyous beginning: They were from the burning of palms used in last April's Palm Sunday celebration commemorating Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The ashes also symbolize life's cycles of joy and sorrow.

"We go through cycles of ups and downs, but the thread that runs through the ups and downs is God," Martin says.

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