Dozens celebrate Ash Wednesday at the Newman Center

This is the first day of the 40-day observation of Lent

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Dozens celebrate Ash Wednesday at the Newman Center

(Alvin Buyinza/Daily Collegian)

(Alvin Buyinza/Daily Collegian)

(Alvin Buyinza/Daily Collegian)

(Alvin Buyinza/Daily Collegian)

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Late in the afternoon, the pews of the Newman Center chapel at the University of Massachusetts were filled with Catholic followers as they listened to Father Gary Dailey preach the word of the Holy Bible.

Ash Wednesday, celebrated by millions of Catholics across the world is the first day of the 40 days of Lent, where followers of the religion are encouraged to sacrifice small things throughout the season in preparation for Easter. According to Dailey, the practice comes from when Jesus was tempted by the Devil as he walked through the desert for 40 days.

“We call [Lent] a desert experience, where we kind of focus inwardly,” Dailey said. “It’s kind of an introspection looking into our lives and seeing ‘what is my relationship to God and to others?’”

A staple of the first day of the religious observation is for followers to wear a mark of ash in the shape of a cross on their forehead as a symbol of Christ. Dailey explained that the ashes were “a sign of penance” for one’s sins, and according to scripture, people would confess their sins in public “wearing sackcloth and ashes.”

The service for Ash Wednesday began with the singing of Catholic hymns and the reading of prayer. Dailey then spoke at the altar and described the significance of the holiday and how people are always susceptible to “sinning.”

“The reality today is that we live in a ‘gotcha!’ society,” Dailey said. “Many people are quick to point out each other’s faults and exploit them through social media and at the same time not recognizing their own sins.”

Dailey then reminds the audience of a passage from the Bible, Matthew 7:3, which speaks upon taking judgement out of one’s eye.

Additionally, he urged those in attendance to attend confession, in which individuals share their sins with a priest and receives penance. The Newman Center provides confessions after every daily Mass, on Saturdays at 3:30 p.m., during the “holy hour” from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. and by appointment, which Daily said is “popular with students.”

“That’s what I’ve been highlighting in my sermons today. I’ve been challenging students to come to confession because I consider it a real game changer for young people and for everybody,” he said.

To many observers of the season, Lent is a testimony of their piety, and a transformation period where one is challenged to be a better version of oneself.

“For a lot of people [Ash Wednesday] is one of the few days they come to church for, but that’s not the case for me,” said Nathan Turowsky, a UMass alumnus.

“It’s a good way for me to be reminded that I’m not the center of the universe, that I’m not even the center of my own universe, much less anybody else’s. By nature I’m [a] very self-centered person, so I find Ash Wednesday a very helpful means of counteracting that.”

This year for Lent, Turowsky plans on giving up junk foods for the entirety of the season. Ideally, he believes that he will eat less junk food after the end of the holiday. In addition to cutting back on junk food Turowsky also has some more wholesome goals.

“I want to be considerate of others more; I want to be more considerate of my family and friends. I want to get up early in the morning and do more with my day,” he said.

Jackson Werner, a sophomore psychology major, said he was sleeping on the floor and giving up warm showers, in addition to making more time for prayer during Lent.

While not always a Catholic, Werner became more religious after volunteering with a group of nuns in high school and was inspired by “their love of God.” Werner officially became a Catholic when he came to UMass and started attending the Center.

Additionally, as a sophomore, Werner said he received immense support from the Center’s priests and other members after he was injured by a drunk driver in downtown Amherst. The support from the Center made him realize it was “the happiest place on Earth.”

“This place has been my home, my home away from home,” he said. “It is my bedrock and it has so many great community members that support me, especially when I went through the conversion process.”

“It has made me feel more than just a number here at UMass but as someone who is truly cared about,” he said.

Alvin Buyinza can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @abuyinza_news. Will Mallas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @willmallas.