Amid extreme weather conditions and widespread power outages, many religious observances persist.
One of those traditions is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a time when many Christians give up something they enjoy or add something meaningful to their lives in the 40 days leading up to Easter.
It serves as the beginning of a period of increased fasting, almsgiving and prayer in preparation for Easter, or the resurrection of Jesus, said Jonathan Marek, student adviser to the University Catholic Community on campus.
Social work junior Deanna Thomson said that normally on Ash Wednesday, church members receive a cross drawn on their foreheads from the ashes of the palm fronds used in the Easter Sunday service the previous year.
With the winter storm leaving many snowed in or without power, her church will distribute the ashes on Sunday, when hopefully weather conditions will be better, she said.
Thomson also planned to watch a livestream of Mass from the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.
Thomson wasn’t alone, though. Many Catholic parishes announced closures, and Ash Wednesday services were canceled due to the weather, according to the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. Many churches will distribute ashes at the end of Sunday Masses on Sunday.
Parishioners are not required to visit church on Ash Wednesday, according to the Diocese.
It’s normally a big day for spiritual outreach on campus, Marek said. While a normal Sunday Mass at the campus chapel would have 50 to 60 people, the yearly Ash Wednesday service brought around 300.
“There's just something about getting ashes, about acknowledging that we're sinners and that we need to repent,” Marek said. “There's just something that speaks to the human heart.”
It’s similar to New Year’s resolutions because of the opportunity for self-improvement, which might contribute to the increased participation every year, Marek said. The church asks members to give up something as a penance, but doesn’t say what or how much, which allows for freedom of personalization.
Nursing senior Rrijen Arevalo said that instead of giving something up, she plans to add something back into her life this year. For the first few years of college, she prayed daily rosaries but fell off track. So this year for Lent, she plans to reintroduce them into her routine.
On a normal year for Marek, Ash Wednesday would be a day of increased reflection and prayer as well as a day of fasting. Catholics don’t eat meat today, he said, and they only eat one full meal and up to two smaller meals.
He planned to do those things by himself this year, and because his own home hasn’t had power for 48 hours, he spent Ash Wednesday in the campus chapel, passing out water bottles, praying and beginning the penances he selected, Marek said.
“We’re just making the best of the situation,” he said.
The livestream of Ash Wednesday Mass at the Fourth Diocese of Arlington can be viewed here.