Faith and Fervor of Ash Wednesday
This year’s celebration of Ash Wednesday, like many other things over the past year, looked differently than it had previously. People were wearing masks, every other aisle of pews was closed off to accommodate social distancing and as a surprise to many students, the ashes were sprinkled over the head instead of marked on the forehead. On the changed style of ash receiving, Harry Scherer (C’22) said, “I knew that they had been doing that in Rome for a good time, but I had never seen it in the States of course.”
Father Martin Moran, the University’s Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry, talked about people’s hesitation to coming to Mass during the pandemic saying, “The key thing is people are still dispensed from coming to Mass and they have the option of staying home, so we have added live streaming. We noticed that close to 500 people have been viewing our Facebook livestream.” This is in addition to the students and faculty that attend socially-distanced Mass in person.
Moran reiterated the challenge of saying Mass during the pandemic. According to him, the hardest thing is social distancing because “a lot of people were not familiar with coming to church [either due to the pandemic or never coming to church] but started coming for the ashes.”
From a non-Catholic perspective, Samantha Highlands, an administrative assistant in the College of Liberal Arts said, “I took the opportunity to go to Mass because I wanted to see what was going on campus and it was a beautiful ceremony. I was really impressed by the social distancing protocols and the amount of additional seating while maintaining the six-foot distance.” She was surprised to see people still taking communion, since receiving involves an increase in physical contact, but with the heavy surveillance testing on campus, Highlands understood why Catholics would want to receive despite the risk.
For regularly-attending Catholics, the experience of Ash Wednesday was different than usually experienced. Bo Baruani (C’24) said, “The different style was definitely new to me but it’s the same Ash Wednesday and the same great Mass that I am used to.” Claire Doll (C’24) also referred to the changing of the Mass as “it was a little strange with the ashes, but I was expecting that.”
Ash Wednesday certainly looked differently this year than the last time this feast was celebrated when cases were low and the pandemic was not a reality of life. With the onset of the vaccine rollout, everyone hopes that we will get back to normal in the foreseeable future. But with the risk of the virus in new forms, social distancing and mask wearing will stay in place. Through the Easter season, COVID-19 will continue to impact Catholic Churches and the Mount community.