Ashes being distributed at churches across metro
It is Ash Wednesday and Catholics and others across the region will head to churches today to receive ashes and begin their commemoration of the season of Lent in advance of Easter.
"It is first of all a mirroring of the 40 days of prayer and fasting that Jesus spent in the desert as he prepared for his public ministry," says New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond.
"On this Ash Wednesday we go before the Lord and we say, 'Give me your enlightenment, what is it that you believe God that needs to be changed in my life and in my heart?'," Aymond said.
The practice of marking foreheads with ashes is common among Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and Episcopalians in the United States. However some Methodist and Presbyterian churches adopted this custom in recent times.
Lenten season is 40 days long, but because the Sunday of each week in the season will not be counted, it will actually last 46 days.
While Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics, members of the faith are encouraged to attend Mass to mark the start of the Lenten season.
Ashes that are distributed are made by burning the blessed palms that were distributed the year before on Palm Sunday.
Catholics who are over the age of 18 and under the age of 60 are required to fast today, which means that they can eat only one complete meal and two smaller ones during the day, with no food in between. Catholics who are over the age of 14 are required to refrain from eating any meat, or any food made with meat, on Ash Wednesday.