Major increase in church attendance marks Ash Wednesday

A 40-day period of prayer, fasting and sacrifice is underway in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Ash Wednesday started early at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in the city center with around 100 Catholic worshipers receiving a cross of ashes on their foreheads made by burning the palm tree from the previous Palm Sunday.

Fr Dennis Gill, rector of the cathedral, said he had seen an increase in the number of people coming to Mass, and this year’s early morning Ash Wednesday service had around twice as many attendance as the year before, when pandemic restrictions were still in place.

Gill said there is no substitute for in-person Mass for Catholics, and the concern about people gathering has eased somewhat, as evidenced by the steady increase in the number of worshipers attending church services.

This year, around half of those in the cathedral chapel, which is used for morning mass, were maskless.

Prof. Gill said Ash Wednesday is the start of the 40 days of Lent, the Catholic tradition which enforces fasting and abstinence from meat for people between the ages of 18 and 59. Ashes are a secondary aspect of Lent, Gill said, with the most important aspect being prayer and reflection in preparation for the Easter season ahead.

Martha J. Finley