Catholics begin holy season of Lent with Ash Wednesday

Alyse Riffer, Reporter

The observance of Ash Wednesday starts off the holy period of Lent with an intimate mass liturgy in the Catholic church.

Senior psychology major Hannah Fender oversees the Catholic Student Association as a spiritual life officer.

“Being the first day of Lent is important as we are reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and we repent for our sins so we really call to mind the things we’ve done wrong and we recognize the passion of Jesus Christ,” Fender said.

Ash Wednesday serves as a reminder to Catholics of their need to repent their sins and need to reconcile with God.

Ashes made of burnt palms from the last Palm Sunday are placed on the foreheads of Catholics attending mass to remind them of their mortality. Priests apply them in the form of crosses after blessing them with holy water.

“It’s weird [when you’re little], you’re like ‘why am I getting this dirt put on my forehead?’… but once you come to understand it better, it’s such a cool concept and it makes you feel small in such a big, big world,” Fender said.

During mass, the priest puts the ashes on the foreheads of Catholic believers and says, “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” or “repent and believe in the Gospel.”

“That basically means to remember that you are nothing compared to what you will be when you get to heaven,” Fender said. “What you have on this Earth is nothing compared to the treasures in heaven.”

Whether the recipients wash off the ashes immediately after or leave them on for the rest of the day remains entirely up to them.

Fender said she personally likes to show the importance of the ashes to others. 

“I will leave them on until I go to sleep because I think it’s a really cool way to evangelize to other people,” Fender said. “I am acknowledging my sins, I am acknowledging my belief in Jesus and my belief in God by displaying these ashes.”

Lent lasts for 40 days from Feb. 22 through April 6, ending on Holy Thursday, the day before Good Friday and three days before Easter.

Because Catholics believe Jesus sacrificed himself for them on Good Friday, they refrain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. All Catholics must follow the rules of fasting and refrain from the consumption of meat unless they are children, elderly or have an underlying medical condition

During Lent, Catholics may choose to abstain from a particular activity or thing to show appreciation for their Savior. Fender said Catholics try to put more emphasis on doing more while giving up something.

“If you give up Starbucks, you give that five dollars to a charity every week, or if you give up being on social media or playing video games, you will pray during that time,” Fender said. “It is giving things up, but it’s also giving them up in order to bring you closer to God.”

The Newman Center holds Ash Wednesday mass on Feb. 22 at various times including 7 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

“Even if you’ve been out of the church for a while, you’re always welcome back,” Fender said.

Alyser Riffer is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].