INTRODUCTION: Pope Paul -- the head of the Catholic Church -- celebrated mass for Ash Wednesday to begin the 40 days spiritual preparations for Easter in St.
INTRODUCTION: Pope Paul -- the head of the Catholic Church -- celebrated mass for Ash Wednesday to begin the 40 days spiritual preparations for Easter in St. Peters Basilica on Wednesday (23 February).
SYNOPSIS: The service was preceded by a procession through St. Peters' Square.
As the selected congregation watched, Pope Paul was carried into St. Peters to officiate at the service. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is the period of penance and meditation for Catholics, they're expected to make sacrifices during the 40 days.
Most people make their sacrifices by giving up things like cigarettes, alcohol and rich food.
The mass begins with the traditional burning of the ashes. Palm branches -- held over from another service (Palm Sunday - the day Christ rode into Jerusalem) -- are burnt.
Pope Paul will make his own penance during Lent. He withdraws from public life on Thursday (24 February) for a 10-day spiritual retreat.
After the branches have been charred, ash from them is rubbed onto the forehead of the congregation.
The mark is in the form of a cross -- to symbolise Christ's crucifixion.
The service ended with the St. Peters' Cardinals kissing their pontiff's ring.