Newman Catholic celebrates Ash Wednesday

Ramapo’s chapter of Newman Catholic, also called the Catholic Campus Ministry, held Mass for Ash Wednesday in the Alumni Lounges, marking the beginning of Lent. The group is associated with the Archdiocese of Newark and invited Father Jarek Zaniewski to serve as the celebrant.

What are Ash Wednesday and Lent?

Ash Wednesday always falls six and a half weeks before Easter. It is a day of confession and fasting where participants repent for their sins and profess their devotion to God. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a 40 day season of the liturgical calendar held by many western denominations of Christianity. The most well-known iteration of Lent is predominantly observed by Catholics.

Lent is a solemn period meant to commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert according to the Gospel of Matthew. It is common for participants to give something up in honor of how he fasted and resisted temptation. It ends with the celebration of Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead according to the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John.

Before the Mass, Newman Catholic offered the Sacrament of Reconciliation — commonly called confession — for anyone who was interested. The sacrament is viewed by Catholics as a way of celebrating God’s forgiveness and love.

During Mass, the congregation receives ashes on their foreheads in the Sign of the Cross as a symbol of mortality. The ashes are applied by a priest, deacon or lay minister, who tells each parishioner, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Ash Wednesday on campus

The congregation received “Breaking Bread” Mass prayer books and sang “Ashes” as an opening hymn. Zaniewski transitioned into an opening prayer with readings from the Book of Joel and the Gospel of Matthew and connected the space of the Alumni Lounges to the passage from Matthew. The passage compares public and private worship, encouraging Christians to be humble when they do good deeds in the name of the Lord. Zaniewski compared the Alumni Lounges where the Mass was held to the “inner room” from the passage where God will acknowledge and reward hidden worship.

After the opening prayer, he spoke further about Lent, breaking down what the celebration really means. He started with the Latin root of Lent, which is lentils or lentamente in Spanish. Both of those words mean “slowly.”

“So it means God calls us, makes plans to slow down. First and foremost, we do so many things on the go, right? Go, go, go, always put a checkmark next to some kind of agenda… and Jesus says ‘Slow down my child. I have so much love to give you, so much mercy to give you,’” he said.

He talked about the traditions of Lent — fasting, abstinence, almsgiving and prayer — and why Christians do these things.

“Well, to make room for Jesus and his love, you have to make room for Jesus and his love, his presence, his person,” he said. Fasting is about giving up what is unnecessary and focusing on what is essential. 

Students who are members of Newman Catholic plan to give up a variety of pleasures for Lent, from social media to diet Coke.

Lent brings Christians together as they await the Mystery of the Resurrection. Photo by Danielle Bongiovanni

“To me, Lent is a time in which I can prepare myself for the Lord more and think about what it means to have a relationship with God,” junior Isabella Torres said.

However, Lent is about more than giving things up. David Donahoe, the campus minister and the advisor for the Newman Catholic Club, said, “Lent is primarily about deepening your relationship with Christ. One of the ways that I am going to be doing that is by reading a small section of the Gospels every day.”

After the Mass, Donahoe and several Newman Catholic members tabled in the Fishbowl Lounge to continue to offer ashes to Christians who could not attend the Mass.

“It feels really good,” Donahoe said. “It’s good to see students coming out and talking with us about what they’re doing for Lent.”

Featured photo by Matthew Wikfors