ST. LOUIS – On the first Sunday mass of lent, the Archbishop of St. Louis ordered Catholic priests across Missouri to preach a message, condemning the sin of racism in what many thought was an “unprecedented” decision.

Archbishop of St. Louis Robert Carlson directed all parishes “to preach on the theme of racism.”

Catholic priests from churches in 11 counties denounced racism at Sunday masses in front of close to 500,000 people.

"Lent encourages and hopefully forces us to examine our lives," said Rev. Joseph Simon, the pastor at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. “Racism and the kingdom of God are diametrically opposed to each other.”

It’s an uncomfortable message that Father Nicholas Smith said needed to be addressed.

"What better time to do this than during this season when we have to look at our lives and repent and change," Father Smith said. “Just look at the world around us. When you see the lack of civility, the lack of respect for people, it's just a natural first thing we need to address."

Elizabeth Westoff, a parishioner and staff member for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, agreed.

"I'm sure people were shocked to come into mass today," she said.

But beyond that shock, she hopes people really listened, so they can possibly make a difference.

"If just the 500,000 of us who heard this message or whoever went to mass this weekend, if just that many share that message with one other person, think of the impact that it will have,” Westoff said.

When it comes to race, the Cathedral Basilica plays an historic role in the narrative of St. Louis. Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Ritter desegregated parochial eight years before the U.S Supreme Court in 1954.