BY FRANCIS ROCCA, Catholic News Service & RI CATHOLIC STAFF
(PROVIDENCE, R.I.)-With a larger crowd than usual for the daily noontime Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, hundreds of Catholics received ashes beginning the season of Lent.
“They (ashes) are a sign of your serious commitment to Christ,” shared Bishop Tobin during his homily. “Receive them (ashes) with determination that nothing may keep u apart from Christ.”
According to The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the imposition of ashes replicates an ancient penitential practice and symbolizes our dependence upon God's mercy and forgiveness.
In Rome, celebrating what was expected to be the last public liturgy of his pontificate two weeks before his resignation, Pope Benedict XVI preached on the virtues of humility and Christian unity and heard his highest-ranking aide pay tribute to his service to the church.
The Ash Wednesday liturgy, traditionally held in two churches on Rome's Aventine Hill, was moved to St. Peter's to accommodate the greatest possible number of faithful.
Jesus "denounces religious hypocrisy, behavior that wants to show off, attitudes that seek applause and approval," the pope said in his homily during Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Feb. 13. "The true disciple does not serve himself or the 'public,' but his Lord, in simplicity and generosity."
Coming two days after Pope Benedict announced that he would be the first pope in 600 years to resign, the Mass inevitably took on a valedictory tone.
"For me it is also a good opportunity to thank everyone, especially the faithful of the diocese of Rome, as I prepare to conclude the Petrine ministry, and I ask you for a special remembrance in your prayer," the pope told the congregation, including dozens of cardinals and bishops, filling the vast basilica.
The pope's last homily included a plea for harmony among his flock, as he lamented "blows against the unity of the church, divisions in the ecclesial body" and called for a "more intense and evident ecclesial communion, overcoming individualisms and rivalries." Such communion favors evangelization, the pope said, by serving as a "humble and precious sign for those who are distant or indifferent to the faith."