Iowa State prepares for Ash Wednesday


Photo: Nicole Wiegand/Iowa State Daily

Frances Clemente, junior in biology, receives ashes during the Ash Wednesday mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Catholics’ observance of Lent, which ends on Easter. 

Alex Ivanisevic

One might see some people walking around Wednesday with a smudge of black on their foreheads.

For those who don’t know, Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent for many Christian denominations.  

“Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, our season of Lent, which goes from Ash Wednesday to the Easter services,” Father Jon Seda, pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, said. “The symbolism there is we put ashes on our forehead, and it indicates where we’ve come from and where we’re going. We’ve come from ashes, we come from the Earth and we’re returning to the Earth. It’s an ancient sign of repentance.”

The practice of going through Lent before Easter has a purpose rooted in returning to a stable relationship with God.

Seda said a lot goes into the preparation for Ash Wednesday at St. Thomas Aquinas, as it is one of the church’s busiest days of the year. There are five liturgies throughout the day — 7 a.m., noon, 5:15 p.m., 7:15 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. Ashes are distributed at each one. This requires the assistance of many people in order to cater to the vast amount of attendees.

“It is amazing how many students come to the Ash Wednesday mass,” Seda said.

Seda also mentioned other Catholic churches in the Ames area that will have mass for Ash Wednesday.

Another denomination familiar with the practice of Lent is the Lutheran faith. The Memorial Lutheran Church in Ames will have an Ash Wednesday service at 7 p.m.

“For us, the importance of [Ash Wednesday] is it is at the beginning of Lent, a season of repentance and reflection and renewal; being reminded of our own sinfulness and our need for God’s grace,” David R. Beagley, associate pastor at Memorial Lutheran Church, said.

Beagley said there are a few differences in how Catholics practice Lent compared to how Lutherans practice it.

“The big difference is instead of having to give up certain things like eating meat on Fridays, it is something that individuals choose to do on their own,” Beagley said.   

The Memorial Lutheran Church, like St. Thomas Aquinas, anticipates a large congregation for the Lenten service, many of whom will be Iowa State students.

Nick Maki, junior in civil engineering, is one of the students who will attend a service at St. Thomas. Maki grew up Roman Catholic and has practiced Lent and other traditions his entire life.

“Though it is difficult to understand when you are young, the tradition becomes much more meaningful when you are older,” Maki said. “This day marks the beginning of the Lent season. It marks the start of an old tradition of penance and fasting during Lent.”

Maki said the ash crucifix drawn on the forehead represents the dust from which God made humans.

“It is a humbling experience and a time when you fill yourself with the Lord,” Maki said. “The season is a very personable time where you reflect on your duties and what you should be doing in order to strengthen your relationship with God.”