By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s an annual ritual for Catholics who work in center city Philadelphia: getting ashes at a noontime mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul.

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Today, hundreds of people took part in the lunch hour ceremony on Ash Wednesday, being reminded of their own mortality.

“Remember that you are dust,” said Archbishop Charles Chaput (center of photo below) to a churchgoer as he placed an ash cross on her forehead.  That is the meaning of ashes on this first day of Lent: a humbling reminder of our origins and our eventual destination.

(Priests place ashes on the foreheads of churchgoers.  Credit: Pat Loeb)

(Priests place ashes on the foreheads of churchgoers. Credit: Pat Loeb)


Yet somehow, the office workers, executives, and local residents who flocked to the service said it made them feel good.

“It was a nice service, very efficient in the time, too, with all the people,” said one woman.

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“Beautiful — it was really beautiful,” said another.

“And it’s wonderful to be a Catholic,” said a third.

Chaput made quite large ash crosses on the foreheads of the faithful, though he preached that Lent is about commitment in the heart, not for show.

He also said the soon-to-be-former Pope Benedict XVI was setting an example of how to approach the season of sacrifice.

“To give up this extraordinary service is an act of humility, and I think even for the humblest person it’s a very difficult thing to say, ‘I just can’t do this anymore,’ ” Chaput said, referring to the pontiff.

Lent ends Easter Sunday, March 31st.

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