This Valentine’s Day corresponded with the Catholic holiday of Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, a season of fasting and atonement wherein practitioners may choose to give up things such as chocolate or fatty foods, as a way of remembering Jesus’s last days of suffering. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter. The event was hosted by University of Redlands’ own Catholic Newman Club on Wednesday, Feb. 14, at 12:30 p.m. in the Casa Loma Room.  


The Ash Wednesday itinerary explains Lent as “a special time of prayer, fasting, sacrifice and good works in preparation for the celebration of Easter. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, ages 18-60 are allowed only one full meal and two smaller meals… [On] Ash Wednesday and Fridays of lent, ages 14 and older [abstain from meat].”


Vice President of the Catholic Newman Club, Paola Antonio, opened with a brief explanation of what Ash Wednesday and Lent meant to her.


“It is a perfect time to ponder love and sacrifice,” Antonio said.


Several members of the Catholic Newman Club read different passages from the Bible between the gathering song and the various rituals of the Ash Wednesday ceremony. The audience would respond and reply to these readings and greetings, as per instruction on the itinerary, though many seemed to know how to respond by heart.


Service attendees were a mix of students and residents from the surrounding area. There were young children, senior citizens, and everyone in between present in the relatively small congregation of around forty individuals.


Bishop Gerald R. Barnes lead the service, a soft-spoken and amicable man.


“Lent is that intense time to focus,” said Barnes. “It is a time to measure how much God loves us.”


Barnes explained the symbolism behind painting a cross of ash on the forehead of parishoners.


“We all came from dust,”said Barnes. “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you will return.”


As parishioners rose to receive the ashes and again as they rose to receive communion, they were accompanied by Mat Toy, Youth and Young Adult Minister at the Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Redlands, with singing and modest electric guitar.  


The Redlands Bulldog was able to catch one student, freshman Vanessa Contreras, as she was leaving, who had the following to say about the mass’s atmosphere: “It felt more like church [than I am used to]. It was more interesting.”


The atmosphere was very unique. It felt weighty and sacrosanct, but did not take itself overly seriously. Outsiders felt as welcome as those who are intimately familiar with the Catholic tradition. The music was that of worship, but simultaneously, it was also modern and casual.


The service concluded with a closing prayer and a blessing, parishioners praying with their arms out, grasped by their neighbors. After this last prayer, the congregation slowly mingled their way out of the Casa Loma Room.


Contera concluded that Ash Wednesday “is a time where [one can reflect on] how much God loves us because he sacrificed his son Jesus Christ for us, and you know that throughout the whole year, but we kind of don’t notice it because we’re so focused on our lives and everything, and during lent we take the time to focus on how much he loves us.”


Photo contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer, Miracle Cariaga.