By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
Traditionally, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and occurs 46 days (40 days not counting Sundays) before Easter.
Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a sign of repentance. The ashes used are typically gathered after the Palm Crosses from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned.
In the liturgical practice of some churches, the ashes are mixed with the Oil of the Catechumens (one of the sacred oils used to anoint those about to be baptized), though some churches use ordinary oil.
This paste is used by the minister who presides at the service to make the sign of the cross, first upon his own forehead and then on those of congregants.
Last Wednesday, residents at Liberal’s Wheatridge Park Care Center experienced the center’s first Ash Wednesday celebration. Activities director Wilma Vargas said Wheatridge started having Catholic masses about two months ago.
“We started doing it twice a month, and now, it’s every week,” she said. “This is the first time on Ash Wednesday. The residents are pretty excited about it since this is the first time doing this type of service.”
Vargas had worked at Wheatridge prior to becoming activities director in November 2008, but she said after moving into her current position, she began seeing more Catholics coming into the facility. This is when she started planning for services for that particular faith at the center.
“I started discussing with them about having mass to see if they were interested instead of going to a regular church,” she said.
Catholic masses take place every Tuesday at Wheatridge, and Vargas said the residents seem to enjoy it.
“They seem to enjoy it. I think they really like the mass,” she said. “It’s good for them.”
Vargas said she has been around Catholics, and she knew about the pre-Easter traditions of Ash Wednesday, but she was not sure of exactly when it occurred.
“I heard when the residents were talking about it to family,” she said. “I thought ‘Well, I’m going to call him and ask him.’ I asked them what they thought if we did have an Ash Wednesday service.”
Vargas later approached Father Jim Dieker of St. Anthony Catholic Church to set up services at Wheatridge.
“I know they have a lot of services going on at that time of the year, so I wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to,” she said. “He seemed pretty thrilled when I asked him. He said if he could do it in the afternoon, that would be fine.”
Vargas said having Dieker come to Wheatridge makes it easier for residents to attend service.
“For some of these residents, it’s hard for them to transfer going in and out of the building,” she said.
When Dieker leads Tuesday services, he normally brings in some of his regular congregation members to assist him.
“They come, and they help with the service,” Vargas said. “They’ll pass out the singing books. They help him with the oil when they do their service. (Last Wednesday), he didn’t have any of his congregation with him, but usually, he does.”
Wheatridge has other churches rotating every Tuesday at the center.
“They come every Tuesday at 2:30,” Vargas said. “It rotates, and that’s with the Ministerial Alliance. They rotate every Tuesday. In that way, it gives all the residents a chance to go to their own church.”
The Catholic service, she said, is an hour later.