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Cardinal Dolan: Christians Feel 'A Tug To The Divine' On Ash Wednesday

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Today marks Ash Wednesday on the Christian calendar.

It's the first day of the season of Lent, a 40-day period of prayer, penance and sacrifice to prepare for the celebration of Easter.

Church leaders will distribute ashes to the faithful at St. Patrick's Cathedral, lower Manhattan's Trinity Church and other locations throughout the Tri-State area.

Cardinal Dolan Prepared For Ash Wednesday

New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan said the lines of the faithful stretching around St. Patrick's Cathedral Wednesday are coming for a reminder.

"It's about as basic and raw and as earthy as you can get. We're gonna take the blessed ashes and the priest is gonna smudge it in the sign of the cross on the believer's forehead and he's simply gonna say, 'remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.' He's reminding us of our mortality. He's reminding us of our frailty. The church is reminding us of our eternal destiny," Dolan told WCBS 880's Rich Lamb.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan with WCBS 880's Rich Lamb
Cardinal Timothy Dolan with WCBS 880's Rich Lamb, discussing Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. (credit: WCBS 880)

Dolan said the start of the Lenten season is an important time of year.

"It's a time of the year where people feel a little bit more of a tug to the divine. They're reminded of heaven, they're reminded of the transcendent, of the beyond. And there's that ancient yearning in the human heart, no matter how secular we get, no matter how material we get. Lord knows we are, but there's an itch down there. There's a longing, there's a void and we all admit it and there's a hole in the heart that only God can fill," Dolan said.

An estimated 50,000 faithful will receive ashes at St. Patrick's Cathedral alone on Wednesday.

"Lent is supernatural spring training. We try to get our soul in shape, we try to say, 'look, we got lazy, we've slipped a little, we're lackluster, we're not living the faith with the kind of pizzazz that we should.' And this is 40 days of spring training, 40 days of boot camp to get back in shape so that Easter, we'll be ready to receive all the grace and mercy that the Lord wants to give us," Dolan said.

The youngest of the faithful are joining Catholics around the world in observing and also learning the meaning of Ash Wednesday.

Students from Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School, at 71 Arden St. in Inwood, Upper Manhattan were feeling deep and mature emotions as they received their ashes, CBS 2's Weijia Jiang reported.

"We feel sorry for what we've done, since Jesus is dying on the cross for us to save us from our sins," said eighth grader Rossiris Abreu.

"It's a time that is really wonderful, and it's worth all of our time as Christians, because of the fact that it leads to 40 days prior to Easter," said eighth grader Lourdes Toribio.

"I feel so happy and glad. It's a time for joy, but also sadness because Jesus is dying for us. But also glad, because Jesus is saving us from sin," said seventh grader Ambar Rosario.

"It makes me feel more closer to God," said seventh grader Kent Aponte.

"We get ready for Jesus," said 3-year-old Ian Vera.

The Rev. Antonio Almonte blessed the 300 students during mass, and said marking ashes on the little ones is particularly meaningful.

"Some of them are scared, they don't know what's going on, so having them receive the ashes helps them at a young age understand the presence of God in their lives," Almonte said.\

Older students are moved by the sign of the cross on their forehead and the repentance it represents.

"When the priest gives them to me, I feel renewed, like I have a second chance," said seventh grader Ambar Rosario.

And while it is common to give up something for Lent, many students said they would rather commit to giving.

"I'll be nicer, and I'll help out my mom more, and I'll think of Jesus more often," said eighth grader Rossiris Abreu.

"I'm going to go outside and help those who don't have what they need," added Ambar.

They are embodying a lesson from Father Almonte.

"Lent is more about living correctly the way you should live," he said.

Some churches are offering "Ashes To Go" at various locations throughout the city for New Yorkers who can't make Ash Wednesday services.

"The doors of the church are always open, but I think it's important for the church to go out and to meet people where they are," Rev. Rebecca Barnes told 1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck. "I think it's also a meaningful way to reach out to the community and to remind them that it's Ash Wednesday and hopefully be able to recall for them the meaning of this day."

New Yorkers Mark Ash Wednesday

One woman got her ashes around 7:45 a.m. on Dyckman Street and Broadway outside the downtown A subway station.

"I'm very busy and I'm a mom of two kids, so I have to run," she said. "This was a lot easier."

"I wasn't going to be able to make it to church until later," another woman said. "This was great."

The observant wear the ashes on their foreheads as an act of faith.

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