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A special program every day of Lenten season

The solemn penitential season of Lent is observed in many ways by certain Christian religions throughout the world, but St. Mark's Episcopal Church of North Tonawanda is one of the few that has a special program every day from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday.

The Lenten season began at St. Mark's with last week's Ash Wednesday services at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

* Choral Evensong programs are being presented every Sunday evening for six weeks.

* Evening prayers will be recited on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.

* Holy Eucharist is celebrated on Tuesday evenings.

* Walking the Stations of the Cross takes place on Wednesdays, preceded by a dinner of light soup and bread.

* Silent adoration is scheduled on Saturdays.

The programs begin at 7 nightly, except for the light dinner at 6 on Wednesdays followed by the Stations of the Cross at 7.

All of the observances take place in the church at 61 Payne Ave., corner of Tremont Street.

Lent traditionally is celebrated by Anglicans (Episcopalians in the United States), Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, some Baptists and an increasing number of other denominations, according to a book by William P. Lazarus and Mark Sullivan titled "Comparative Religion for Dummies," and cited as a source by Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia on the Internet.

The Rev. Glen Fuller, vicar at St. Mark's, says in a blog on the church website, "There is no Christian who is ineligible or unwelcome to receive Communion. There is no one here who is too old or too young; no one who has too many doubts or too few beliefs. This is the altar prepared by a loving God for all creation through the power of Jesus Christ. You are part of that creation and are welcome here."

Among other Niagara County churches with extensive Lenten schedules is All Saints Catholic Parish of Lockport, a merger of St. Anthony, St. Joseph, St. Patrick and St. Mary churches. Its principal worship site is at the former St. Patrick Catholic Church building at 76 Church St., with oratories available only for part-time use on special occasions at the former St. Mary Church site at 5 Saxton St. and at the former St. Joseph Church, 391 Market St.

"Soup and Stations" will be offered every Wednesday evening during Lent at the Market Street oratory, with a Healing Mass at 5:30, serving of soup at about 6 and praying the Stations of the Cross at 7.

The Rev. Joseph E. Vatter, pastor, said Lent is "a period of preparation for Jesus' coming on Easter Sunday."

Many devout Christians give up some enjoyable activity or a favorite food as a form of penance during Lent. But Vatter explained in a letter to his "parish family:

"Mere self-denial is not the goal of Lent; renewed relationships with God and each other is. It is better to accomplish something small which makes a difference in our relationships to God and others than to tackle something large which may bring failure.

"Instead of giving up something such as candy for Lent, I would encourage you to do something positive. Maybe there is someone who could use a phone call or a letter from you. I hope you will truly take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to grow closer to God."

Grace Episcopal Church at 100 Genesee St. in Lockport observed Ash Wednesday by distributing ashes at noon and 7 p.m. The placing of ashes on the forehead is a symbol of penance.

In Niagara Falls, the Rev. Wesley R. Bourdette planned to preach at an Ash Wednesday service in First Baptist Church at Main and Fourth Streets. Donna M. Flood was scheduled as the soprano soloist with special music "O Lord, Be Merciful" by Homer N. Bartlett.

These are just a few of the observances picked out at random from among the many houses of worship in Niagara County and throughout the world. Many other churches in both large and small communities held similarly inspiring ceremonies.

Lent is generally considered to be about 40 days of penance leading up to the Christian belief in the resurrection of Christ from the dead on Easter Sunday.

Various denominations count the days in different ways, however, and there actually are 46 days this year counting from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. The Easter holiday is considered to be day of celebration of a great rebirth and thus is not part of the penitential season of Lent.

Some religions do not count the six Sundays during Lent as part of the penitential season, thus achieving the 40 days. Still others do not count Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday -- the last three days of Holy Week leading up to Easter.

No matter how the days are counted, the traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentence, charity and self-denial recalling the events of Jesus' death on Good Friday and his triumphant resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Do you have an idea for Religion News in Niagara County? Write to Richard E. Baldwin, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240 or email him at rbaldwin@buffnews.com