Beyond the beads and beignets, Mardi Gras holds a religious significance, providing the faithful with one final chance for indulgence. The dining halls are decked out in traditional Fat Tuesday flair and serve a variety of Cajun-themed dishes in addition to a myriad of delicious desserts. With the evening chanting of the final alleluia across campus in the various dorm chapels, students prepare themselves for a period of prayer and penance. Inspired by a sacred soberness, Ash Wednesday commences the liturgical season of Lent.
During Ash Wednesday liturgies, people receive on their foreheads a mark made of ash in the shape of a cross. The ash is made from the burning of last year’s palms that were used for Palm Sunday. The biblical symbol of ash is associated with repentance and conversion, two major Lenten themes. In addition to Masses at the Basilica, students enjoy plenty of opportunities to reflect on Lent and receive their ashes.
Lent is a solemn series of weeks in the Church’s calendar, which culminates in the paschal mystery of Easter. The observance is practiced by many Christians as representative of Jesus’ decision to pray and fast for forty days in the wilderness. Individuals will often refrain from certain activities to exercise spiritual strength and engage in a deeper life of prayer.
Campus’ trending question amongst students and staff is “what are you ‘giving up’?” Some will forgo candy and dining hall frozen yogurt, while others will decide to take on pious practices like attending Mass twice a week or making more frequent Confessions. Lent, however, is no mere Catholic fitness plan, a diet regimen promising results with every prayer. Rather, it is a spiritual exercise of the mind and heart, a means to reflect on one’s relationship with God founded on three pillars: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
"I’m giving up complaining for Lent because it’s difficult to stop and think before casually saying something negative especially when fasting, walking across campus in the cold, or being stressed by classes," Mary Catherine Walter, a fourth-year majoring in Architecture, said. "Even if we don’t take our own complaints seriously, they insinuate that we are not truly grateful for the countless blessings we’ve been given."
During Morrissey Manor’s opening Lenten liturgies, Rev. Ronald Vierling, M.F.C. reminded students of the importance of the discipline of Lent, explaining that spiritual fitness should be prioritized alongside physical fitness.
"I am going to try to incorporate more personal prayer and reflection during each day because often I find that I am very good at talking but not listening to God," Laura Paquin, a junor Aerospace Engineer, said. "I am hoping that allowing this time for reflection will allow me to strengthen the presence of a number of virtues in my life."
Constantly mindful of course deadlines and club meetings, students often forget how to find a balance between spirituality and scholarship. Notre Dame fortunately offers many ways for religious outreach due to the University’s commitment to discovering the fruits of faith and reason. In addition to special Sunday vespers and weekly meditations on the Stations of the Cross at the Basilica, Campus Ministry will be hosting a fish fry on Feb. 27, and the Center for Social Concerns encourages students to participate in the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl campaign, a fundraising initiative in solidarity with global humanitarian programs and informed by the preferential option for the poor.
Last year, Pope Francis shared his reflections on the Lenten vitality of Christianity as an evangelical expression of concern for human welfare. “The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope,” The Holy Father said. “It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness.”
Lent is an invitation to live out one’s faith beyond the spiritual sidelines. So in the Notre Dame spirit, let’s play and pray like a champion today!