That point was not lost on Father Joseph Shea as he addressed a congregation that packed pews and gathered at the hall's entrance.
"Lent is a big, huge stop sign, asking you how you're living your life," he told the crowd. "Lent is a time to return to the Lord."
Traditionally, Lent is also a time for Christians who observe it to take up three forms of penance with renewed vigor, including prayer, fasting and charity.
Many Christians give up something they enjoy and give something extra to charity. "Some give up smoking, some give up candy, some give up alcohol," said Brad Thomas, Shea's assistant. "That's up to the individual."
A posting at Holy Family Community Church called on its parishioners to follow rules set by the Roman Catholic Church.
According to the Church, Catholics aged 14 to 59 eat only one full meal and two lighter meals a day, with no snacking in between. The two lighter meals together must sum to less than one full meal.
Meat and poultry are also typically disallowed on Fridays during Lent and Ash Wednesday.
The fasting used to be for the entire 40 days, but over time, those restrictions have been relegated to just Lent Fridays, with the degree of penance and abstinence during the rest of week left largely to the individual to decide, Thomas said.
"It's not so severe as it used to be," he said.
Christine Godinez had to leave Wednesday's mass early so she could return to her job for the city of Glendale. She said she would keep the ashen cross on her forehead for the remainder of her work day.
"If someone asks about it, I tell them," she said.
The ash marking is a "potent symbol" to the outside world of a Catholic's faith, signifying the belief that people came from dust and will return to dust, Shea said.
"You are saying something very loud to the world," he told the congregation. "You are saying, 'I am a Christian, and further more, I am a Catholic Christian.'"
The Lenten season extends to Good Friday on April 6.