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Ash Wednesday: Campus embraces Lent’s start

Joshua Aponte
Ash Wednesday service at the University Parish Newman Center.

Ashes on the foreheads of students and staff around campus marks Ash Wednesday, the holy holiday Christians all over the world celebrate to signify the start of the Lenten liturgical season. 

Millions of Christians worldwide observe this sacred holiday, which signifies the beginning of the 40-day period of Lent, leading up to Easter Sunday.

Pastor Fr. Jeremy Merzweiler, from St. Francis De Sales in Akron, said Ash Wednesday is derived from the ancient Jewish tradition of fasting and penance. Marking the beginning of Lent, it is also meant to give participants time to reflect on mortality, repentance and the need for forgiveness. 

“We mark observers’ foreheads with a cross, using ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday mass, to represent their mortality and penance for sins,” Fr. Merzweiler said. 

Mass services take place at churches multiple times throughout the day, and at St. Francis De Sales, that means 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. 

“Each mass has hundreds of churchgoers, and we see a lot of families in our parish make it a point to attend the mass together,” Fr. Merzweiler said. 

The church mass takes a little more than an hour to complete, but afterwards many of the people in attendance are focused and ready to start the season of Lent.

“I love Ash Wednesday,” said Ohio State University senior Anna Elsass. “I have gone with my family every year, and I drive back home from Columbus just to go to mass with them. I find it really important to start the season of Lent by reflecting on the past year, and looking at all my shortcomings and evaluating where I was and where I am now.” 

Elsass said she likes to explain what Ash Wednesday means to her friends that don’t know the significance of the ash cross on her forehead.

“You can get a lot of weird looks from people who just don’t have any knowledge of the day,” Elsass said. “I love the opportunity to share my faith and teach people about what the holiday is, and what our mass that we celebrate means.” 

Fr. Merzweiler says that seeing more and more youth at services like Ash Wednesday is a sign that younger people have a serious interest in their faith.

“If you can get high school and college age kids to come to a Wednesday mass, during their busy weeks with tons of other activities going on, I think that is a testament to other kids spreading the message of what their faith life is and just how important faith is to them,” he said.

Lent also marks the time when many Christian churches begin to welcome large numbers of new people. Fr. Merzweiler says that now is a great time to think about starting a faith journey if you have never done so.

“I did not become Catholic until I graduated college, so it is never too late to go to mass and start building a relationship with God, and meet some amazing people in a church community,” Fr. Merzweiler said. 

Luke Gehm is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

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    Marilyn SessionsFeb 15, 2024 at 3:55 pm

    Why would you go to Akron to get quotes and talk to someone when you have a WONDERFUL Catholic Parish right on your own campus?