COEUR d'ALENE - To Clint Fairless, the cross of ashes applied to his forehead on Wednesday represented a "commitment."
"Compared to what God sacrificed for us, this is nothing," the Coeur d'Alene man said during an Ash Wednesday service at St. Pius X Catholic Church. "It's my commitment to the Lord."
Ash Wednesday, observed by multiple Christian denominations such as Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and Anglicans, is the first day of Lent, a solemn observance with prayer, repentance and fasting during the 46 days before Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Fairless, 64, has been a Catholic most of his life. He said he considers Ash Wednesday to be both a time of celebration and sacrifice.
"It's one of our holiest days of the year," he said. "You give up something you like - and what I'm giving up is personal."
One by one, roughly 200 worshippers during the St. Pius noon service went forward to have an ash cross applied to their foreheads marking the start of what Father Adrian Vazquez, a parochial vicar, called a spiritual journey and a "victory in the cross."
"You're saying, 'I will indeed work in this area of my life ... I want to walk with Christ,'" Vazquez told those in attendance. "Making sacrifices isn't easy. It's a time to go back and pause."
According to the Gospels, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in a desert, where he was tempted by Satan.
Ashes were used in ancient times to express mourning. Dusting oneself with ashes was a way to express sorrow for sins and faults.
To Sue Johnson, a worshipper from Coeur d'Alene, Ash Wednesday marked the "start of a new beginning and a sacrifice to the Lord."
"It's a reminder that God is merciful to those who seek him and repent," she said.
Pastor Roger LaChance said Lent is a time of change in observers' lives.
"What needs to be changed?" he said in describing the season. "Are there bits of selfishness, pride or sin that we need to get rid of? Lent can be a time to change our hearts and to let them no longer be hard."
Doug Cornutt, of Coeur d'Alene, is marked with holy ashes by acolyte James Weisel as members of the congregation of St. Pius X form a line during the Ash Wednesday service.