Before the sun came up, dozens of people began filing into San Fernando Cathedral in search of a spiritual kind of light.
They attended a 6 a.m. service in observance of Ash Wednesday, the official start of the Lenten season for Christians around the world.
"It's a great way to start the day and have the whole day to reflect on what the Mass was about," said Gloria Borrego, who woke up extra early to attend the Mass before work. "It just symbolizes that it's time to get ready for Easter and reflect on the things that we've done in the past year."
Although it’s known as a holy day primarily among Catholics, Ash Wednesday also is observed by Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans and some Baptists.
In the Catholic church, worshippers’ foreheads are usually marked with ashes, as the priest says a short prayer, reminding them that they are “dust, and to dust thou shall return.”
The faithful use the 40-day period, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending Easter Sunday, to reflect on the sacrifice they believe Jesus Christ made for them by dying on the cross.
Some also vow to make sacrifices of their own.
"I'm giving up all drinks with caffeine and I'm going to try to improve in school,” said Rylan Johnson, who traveled from the Hill Country with his parents, sister and cousin for the service.
His cousin, Gage Lange, also promised to “try to be nice and try to give up all the bad foods” that he’s used to eating in observance of Lent.
But to Johnny Fernandez, sacrificing is about more than just a single season.
He said he’s taking time to think about making lifelong changes.
"It has to do with giving up and repentance, and staying that way,” Fernandez said, “and, of course, passing the Gospel to our fellow man.”
This year, Catholics will experience that sense of “giving up” when their leader steps down, right in the middle of Lent.
Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he’s resigning Feb. 28 due to his age-weakened condition.
Fernandez, though, said that won’t weaken his resolve to do what’s right during this holy season.
"It's not going to have any impact or any effect on me or any type of impact, you know? We'll march forward,” he said.