Mortality reclaimed

Allison Remcheck

The Lenten season is a time for college students to reflect

Altar server Emily Ohman, 14, receives a blessing of ashes from the Rev. John Jerek on Ash Wednesday at the Newman Center. PAT JARRETT | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

The faint scent of incense and the tune of ancient hymns welcomed worshipers to one of the most holy days for Roman Catholics: Ash Wednesday.

Students and community members packed the University Parish Newman Center full March 1 for the 9 p.m. Mass, the last for the evening, as a time of reflection began.

“I don’t know entirely what brought all of you here tonight,” the Rev. John Jerek began the Mass.

Something about the Lenten season draws people back to church who don’t normally attend, Jerek continued. He said Christians should focus on making their exterior as Christian-like as their interior.

“Often appearances and actions cover up that inner reality which itself is often confused,” Jerek said. “Our appearances and our actions cover up that beautiful truth that we ourselves do not rise to. This evening, we reclaim that inner life of ours, that inner heritage.”

The purpose of Ash Wednesday is to “reclaim your mortality,” Jerek said. “You are not going to live on this earth forever.”

But at the same time, Christians have faith they are immortal.

“You have been recreated and made in that image of the one who died on the cross for you,” Jerek said.

So the mark of ashes placed on the forehead in the sign of the cross should be seen as a “mark of our repentance,” he said.

Ash Wednesday is “the beginning of the Lenten season,” said Catherine Czaplicki, junior early-childhood education major. “During the Mass, we get ashes placed on our forehead in the sign of the cross, and it symbolizes that we come from ashes and we will return to ashes: our mortality.”

Ash Wednesday probably dates before medieval times, Jerek said, and is “an opportunity for us to stand face to face with our mortality and trust how Christ has saved us with his resurrection.

“It’s a season of spiritual renewal for us, with renewing our commitment to the church,” he said. “During this time, the liturgies tend to be much more simple and very intense. It’s a good time to examine our lives.”

On Ash Wednesday, Jerek said more than 1,000 people came to worship – much more than an average Sunday.

“On one hand, it’s very impressive so many students make that effort,” Jerek said.

But he said he wishes their effort would be more consistent.

“They’re the future of the church,” he said. “And if they’re not committed, the future isn’t that good.”

Kurt Long, junior middle-childhood education major, said Lent is “more symbolic of giving something up,” in the same way Christians believe Jesus gave something up for them.

Long said many Catholics make a sacrifice during Lent. He will abstain from snacks in between meals, but is also going to financially sponsor a child at a sister parish in El Salvador.

“Ash Wednesday is that time of reflection on our church,” Long said. “On how we’re so fortunate to have a lot of things here and other people aren’t so fortunate. To reflect upon what you have in your life and how you can help others.”

Contact features correspondent Allison Remcheck at [email protected]