Christians began Lent yesterday with Ash Wednesday observances as varied as the Jewish call to penance -- the blowing of the ram's horn -- in a Roman Catholic church in Baynesville and a sung High Mass in an Episcopal church in Baltimore's Mount Vernon area.
The rite of imposition of ashes, the smudging of foreheads with the burned palms of last year's Palm Sunday, was observed in many churches of several denominations throughout the region.
These included Presbyterian, United Methodist, Lutheran and Episcopal as well as churches of the Catholic faith, in which the practice began 904 years ago with the Synod of Benevento. The ashes are intended to remind Christians of their mortality in this life and their belief that immortality is to be found in the next.
At Grace and St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Park Avenue and Monument Street, the sung penitential Mass followed a Rosary service.
In marked contrast was the Ash Wednesday observance at Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church on Loch Raven Boulevard in Baynesville, where Judge Robert I. H.Hammerman raised the Jewish liturgical ram's horn known as the shofar to his lips and called the Catholic congregation to its 40 days of self-denial.
Judge Hammerman, senior jurist of the Baltimore Circuit Court, is a member of Har Sinai Congregation on Park Heights Avenue. He learned to blow the ram's horn, recalling Moses' proclamation of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, 33 years ago.
Yesterday's performance of the rite was his 21st for the Ash Wednesday service at Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Words of the Catholic service included, "For our Jewish brothers and sisters, may the sound of this horn awaken love for God and his commandments. May the beautiful tones of the shofar mark for us Christians a new beginning on our road to serve God with our whole heart and all our strength."
For most Christians of the Western world, the season of Lent will culminate with Easter Sunday April 16, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. The Sundays of Lent are not counted among the 40 days of preparation, which are a reminder of Jesus' 40 days in the desert.
Eastern Orthodox Christians, however, follow a different liturgical calendar. They will begin Lent Monday and celebrate Easter April 23.