Why Ash Wednesday?...
Today’s guest blogger is Nick Luken, a second-year student at The Ohio State University, majoring in English and minoring in professional writing. Nick graduated from Roger Bacon, a Franciscan high school in Cincinnati, in 2012.
It’s no secret that most Catholics my age don’t go to Mass much anymore. Many of my fellow college students are not religious at all, but many of the people who still consider themselves Catholic don’t go to Mass because they don’t think they have time or they haven’t made going to Mass a priority (or both). But there is one day of the year when almost every college Catholic on my campus goes to Mass. Believe it or not, that day is Ash Wednesday.
On my first Ash Wednesday away at college, I was immediately puzzled by the huge number of college students who suddenly showed up at Mass, and lined up to get ashes on their foreheads even though I had never seen these students at Mass before. It seemed strange that all these people would want to go to Mass on the first day of Lent, the day when everyone is painfully reminded that we come from dust and will return to dust. It’s one of the most depressing days of the liturgical year, and I’ve never been sure why so many college students make sure to go to Mass on that day, especially since it’s not even a holy day of obligation.
I’ve come up with a few possible explanations, some more honorable than others. The first is that these students just like to walk around campus with ashes on their foreheads. The ashes make the students stand out, and the attention that the ashes get might be attractive in some strange way.
The second possible reason is classic Catholic guilt. I would guess that a fair amount of students who don’t usually go to Mass occasionally feel guilty. Since Ash Wednesday is all about repenting for our sins, it’s the perfect day for anyone struggling with guilt to try to show remorse for any sins in an out-of-the-ordinary way.
The most important reason that I think college students flock to Ash Wednesday Mass, though, is a reason that I think underlies any other reason that they go. I think that deep down, everyone–not just lapsed Catholics–knows that we need God and His mercy. I like to think that everyone knows, in some capacity or another, that we are all sinners, but God wants us to return to Him.
That’s the spirit of Ash Wednesday, after all. No matter where we are in our faith lives, every single one of us must turn away from sin today and be faithful to the Gospel.
(CNS photo/Owen Sweeney III, Catholic Review)