The penitential season of Lent is not a time of sadness, but “a joyful season because we have the great opportunity to grow closer to Christ,” Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, rector of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, said during a noonday Ash Wednesday Mass on Feb. 14.

“We are challenged (during Lent) to reflect in all seriousness on our shared human condition,” Msgr. Jameson said. “We are all sinners and we all need God’s mercy. If we open our hearts, God will be abundant in mercy.”

The faithful filled the cathedral, its side chapels and aisles to receive ashes on their foreheads and to be reminded, “you are dust and to dust you shall return” or to be admonished “to repent and believe in the Gospel.”

He urged the faithful to rely  “on God’s enduring and faithful love” because “salvation … is found in the all-forgiving heart of God, now revealed to us in Jesus Christ.”

“We need to stop in our busy-ness to take stock of our lives,” Msgr. Jameson said.    “Do not seek the vain glory of this world, but seek the silent and abundantly life-giving presence of God.”

The Mass – one of seven offered that day at the cathedral – marked the start of Lent, the 40-day penitential period of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for Easter.

Msgr. Jameson reminded those at the Mass that the prayer, fasting and almsgiving that most adopt as a Lenten sacrifice are “not be to seen as a way to win heaven by our own effort, but as creating a space in our lives for God.”

One way the faithful can “create a space for God” is through the annual “The Light is On for You” Lenten Confession initiative. Through the program, Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Washington and Diocese of Arlington will be open for Confessions and quiet prayer every Wednesday evening, in addition to the regularly scheduled Confessions held in each parish. For information, go online to .

The remaining Wednesdays of Lent are Feb. 21, 28, March 7, 14, 21 and 28. During the hours when Confessions are being heard, many parishes also offer Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Lent continues until Good Friday, March 30. Easter this year will be celebrated on Sunday, April 1.