Christians here in the city and across the world marked the start of the Lenten season Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday begins a 40-day observation of prayer, repentance and sacrifice, all leading up to Easter Sunday.
As is tradition, ashes are placed on the foreheads of parishioners as a symbol of human mortality.
Catholics who gathered for mass Wednesday morning at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Midtown said this year takes on a special meaning, as it will be Pope Benedict XVI's last major holiday before he resigns.
"It's obviously something that a hard decision he had to make, and if he's not capable of doing his duties, then that's, you know, his decision. It's a hard decision to make, and I respect that," said one worshiper.
"A little disappointed. I'm just not sure where it's coming from. And why now?" said another worshiper.
Another parishioner had a different take, telling NY1 you can't read into it too much.
During noon mass, Cardinal Timothy Dolan spoke about the Pope's decision and said it speaks directly to his humility and that "we are conscious of our mortality."
Speaking from the pontiff's perspective, Dolan added, "I feel weak. I feel fragile. I am fragile. I need time to prepare. And I'm no longer able to bear the demands of the office of the successor of Peter, once again a humility a consciousness of his mortality. That's what this day is all about, everybody."
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio led Ash Wednesday mass at St. James Cathedral in Brooklyn.
Some worshippers there said they understood the Pope's decision.
DiMarzio called it "a great act of humility and love."
"He recognized he couldn't carry on the responsibility of the papacy the way he wanted, to be able to be at all the events and to travel, so he recognized that it was time for him to retire," DiMarzio said. "So he showed us love and humility at one time. And that's what Lent is about, too."
"I actually think it's a good thing that if he's not mentally capable of leading us, I think it's a great thing that he's resigning and stepping down when he's able to," said one worshipper.
"Somebody that will take his reign and take us in a new future, a new beginning for the church," said another.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI made his first public appearances Wednesday since announcing his upcoming resignation.
The Pope marked the official start of Lent by celebrating Ash Wednesday at Saint Peter's Basilica.
He received a standing ovation at a packed Saint Peter's Basilica for an early-evening mass.
It's the last public mass he's expected to celebrate as the leader of the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict XVI touched on his resignation during the service, asking for the prayers of his followers.
Earlier, thousands gathered for the Pope's weekly general audience.
It was his second-to-last public audience before he steps down on February 28.
The Pope told the crowd that he was stepping down "for the good of the church."
The 85-year-old announced his resignation on Monday, citing health concerns.
The Vatican insists that no serious medical problems are behind his decision, though it admitted for the first time Tuesday that he has had a pacemaker for years and recently had it replaced.
Pope Benedict XVI will become the first Pope to step down in nearly 600 years.
Church leaders said that they hope to have a new Pope in place by Easter.