“Come back to me with all your hearts”. These words from the prophet Joel are read each Ash Wednesday, reminding us of the true call of the season, the call of God to return to him in love and renewed spirit. The current weather event battering Sydney did not dampen numbers at our liturgies across the Diocese, with many journeying out in the wet to attend Mass in person or tuning in to livestreamed services. As happened last year, following instruction from the Vatican due to the pandemic, ashes were sprinkled on the heads of parishioners.
They joined others around the world in remembering those suffering in Ukraine and Russia, following Pope Francis’ call for Ash Wednesday to be a day of prayer and fasting for Peace in Ukraine.
St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Those attending the evening Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, were acknowledged with celebrant Fr Robert Riedling, Dean and Administrator of the Cathedral, noting the dedication of the faithful who braved the storms to attend the Mass.
Fr Robert began the liturgy reminding us of the additional importance of this Ash Wednesday as a Day of Prayer and Fasting for those who continue to suffer in Ukraine and Russia. He encouraged the congregation to prayerfully hold those people in their hearts, and to “pray for peace and a change of heart for those who impose and seek to impose change with violence.”
Deacon Matthew Dimian picked up the theme of “a change of heart” within his homily, as he drew the congregation to reflect on their priorities during Lent. “Why are we preparing for these forty days of Lent, for Good Friday and for Easter?” he asked.
“The focus these days isn’t what we are going to give up. Our priority is conversion, to turn to God in prayer and with deeper love and devotion.”
Parish of Baulkham Hills
During their 9.30am Mass, Parish Priest Fr Wim Hoekstra told parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Baulkham Hills South, that Lent is the time where we are called to reflect on our lives and to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.
“Today is a true day of reflection, of fasting, of prayer and of abstinence,” Fr Wim explained.
“In these 40 days, we will think about the things that we can do to show repentance in our lives. The three admonitions that Jesus gives in the Gospel today are the ones that would be suitable for us – almsgiving, to pray and to fast – acts of self-denial.
“May the ashes that we have received truly symbolise our commitment to do your will.”
In taking up Pope Francis’ call to prayer, Fr Wim prayed for those affected by the conflict in Ukraine and for the Ukrainian community across the globe. He also added prayers for those in northern NSW and Queensland who are dealing with severe flooding.
St Paul the Apostle Parish, Winston Hills
At St Paul the Apostle Parish, Winston Hills, assistant priest Fr Marcus Hazelman explained that the readings give a foundation as to how we are to live our lives during the Lenten season.
In explaining the reasoning behind the different ritual of sprinkling ashes, rather than placing them on our foreheads, Fr Marcus told the congregation not to forget the pledge they make before God through this season in the words said by the priest – ‘repent and believe in the Gospel’ and ‘remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’
“Repentance gives us an opportunity to have our minds and lives clearer and to have humility to come before God and to His word,” Fr Marcus said.
“Our hearts must be humble, our hearts must be changed during this season, and we are to let our hearts be laid before God through our faith and through our love for Him and for each other.
“With everything that is going on, whether it be the war in Europe, the pandemic, or what is happening within our own lives, we must be people that are not hesitant to go before God through Reconciliation.
“On this day, as we begin Lent, we remember that we are all sinners, but God always gives us the opportunity to repent, to practise our faith, to put ourselves in the spirit of prayer.”
St John the Evangelist Parish, Riverstone
The community of St John the Evangelist Parish, Riverstone, were visited by Federal Member for Greenway Michelle Rowland for their 8.30am Mass. Ms Rowland posted a picture of herself and parish priest Fr Zakaria Gayed on her Facebook page, saying it was a pleasure to see the Riverstone locals at Mass.
St Matthew’s Parish, Windsor
Due to rising floodwaters and evacuation warnings in place in the Hawkesbury/Nepean region, St Matthew’s Parish, Windsor was forced to cancel its 7.30pm Ash Wednesday service. “Stay safe and reach out,” its Facebook post said.
Ash Wednesday in our schools
Schools across the Diocese have also hosted liturgies to commemorate Ash Wednesday.
At Catherine McAuley, Westmead, due to COVID measures, a liturgy was held in their Mercy Chapel which was then streamed to all students in their Homerooms. Each homeroom was then able to receive ashes from their student leaders.
Before floodwaters forced its closure on Thursday, all students and staff at Bede Polding College, South Windsor, were able to receive their ashes from Fr Gayan Thamel from the Parish of Richmond.
On Facebook, Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta posted a video featuring students from Holy Family Primary School, East Granville, and Christ the King Primary School, North Rocks, explaining what Ash Wednesday means to them and what they’re giving up for Lent.
National call to prayer for Ukraine
In the afternoon of Ash Wednesday, Catholics across Australia were invited to a special virtual prayer meeting hosted by Caritas Australia to pray in solidarity with Ukraine.
Caritas Australia’s Director of Mission, Michael McGirr hoped that the prayers may help to restore peace in the region.
“We will stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian sisters and brothers in their time of great need. We pray earnestly for peace and justice. Together, we will join together and call on God ‘…to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ (Lk 1:79),” he said.
“This prayer is one way for us to show our compassion and solidarity with those facing conflict in Ukraine right now. We ask God to bring light to a dark situation.”
View images from the Ash Wednesday Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, here.