Wednesday begins a solemn time of the liturgical year for many Christians.

Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent, will be celebrated in many churches.

Many church services are slated throughout the day on Wednesday as congregants enter into a time of atonement and self-denial during the 40-day Lenten season.

Lent culminates during Holy Week, which celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus on Easter on April 1.

“Lent is a time to prepare for Easter,” said Father David McEvoy, pastor at St. Joseph Church. “It’s a time of fasting and prayer to re-commit to our baptismal promises.”

Many people will give up something during Lent such as candy, tobacco, alcohol or coffee as a way of sacrifice. A tradition in the Roman Catholic faith calls for people to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent as a way of sacrifice. Many civic clubs and organizations have special dinners featuring fish on the Fridays of Lent.

In many church services, celebrants will dispense ashes on the foreheads of congregants, who will come to the altar and receive ashes from a minister, who will draw a cross on the person’s forehead and say, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Ashes will be dispensed at 6:30 a.m. and noon Wednesday at St. Joseph Church, and at 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. at Immaculate Conception Church.

The dispensation of ashes will be held at noon and 7 p.m. at St. Paul Episcopal Church.

Ashes will be dispensed at 7 p.m. Wednesday during a service at St. Paul Lutheran Church.

“This is a time of reflection on Christ’s suffering,” said Rev. Ed Mease, pastor of the church.

Mease said Lent is a special time of year for Christians to reflect on “how their walk of faith can grow stronger.”

Mease said his church’s theme for Lent is Thy Will Be Done.

“We will examine the lives of different Bible characters and how the Lord’s will played a part in their lives,” he said.

McEvoy said there is “a lot of participation on Ash Wednesday” as people start their spiritual journey during Lent.

“The ashes speak to people,” he said.

Religious symbols will be removed or cloaked in the altar areas of many churches throughout Lent.

Xavier Catholic School students will receive ashes during a Mass at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. The Mass will be held at the school if the weather is too cold, or students will make the short walk to the University of Saint Mary for Mass that morning.

The school has several programs scheduled during the Lenten season, to include Stations of the Cross and penance services.

Students also will participate in a Pennies for Peru fundraiser in which pennies are collected and sent to an orphanage in Peru. They will also have a regular prayer exchange with other students at Xavier Catholic School.