NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The faithful are observing Ash Wednesday today.

It marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. It’s the holiest time for Christians.

It’s a period of prayer, penance and sacrifice.

Many followers choose to give up something to show their commitment to their faith.

We’d like to know: What are you giving up for Lent? Just click here to let us know.

People from all over the world were flocking to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the distribution of ashes.

No matter where you are, you’ll see people walking around with ash marking their foreheads.

For Christians, especially Catholics, that holds huge significance.

Lines of believers streamed into the cathedral waiting to participate in the ceremony.

“It’s wonderful. It’s beautiful. And I got to commune a little bit with the Lord that I believe in,” said Tom Gregory McClaine.

The ashes serve as a public expression of faith.

“It was great, beautiful. Great reflection time, a reminder of what the season’s about: Alms giving, fasting and prayer,” said Michael Portny.

“It’s a symbol of the reality of human life. Remember that you are dust, and that to dust you shall return,” said Monsignor Robert Ritchie. He’ll devote more than 12 hours Wednesday distributing ashes for people from all over the world.

“Where do the ashes come from,” asked CBS2’s Jessica Moore.

“I’m glad you asked,” said Msgr. Ritchie. “The usual way of getting the ashes for most parishes would be collecting the palms that had been given out on Palm Sunday of the year before, and burning them, and grinding them up into an ash form.”

Msgr. Ritchie said he used to make his own.

Traditionally, believers abstain from meat during Lent, but many give up other vices as well.

“Giving up sweets and trying to be nicer to people this Lent season,” said Mary Catherine.

“I already don’t really eat meat, so no chocolate for me,” said Laura Graham.

“Does it make you feel full of spirit to know that in today’s world that people are still willing to do this?” Moore asked.

“Oh yeah, it inspires me every year,” said Msgr. Ritchie. “When I see the great crowds that we have. And when I just go out on Fifth Avenue later on today and look around you’ll see so many people.”

“It is a significant statement that spirituality and religion are still important in the world in which we live,” he added.

Some 50,000 people are expected to flock to St. Patrick’s Cathedral before the day is over. Msgr. Ritchie said they plan on keep the doors open until 8 p.m., but he will stay even longer if people still want to come in.”

We’d like to know: What are you giving up for Lent? Just click here to let us know.

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