For students in our Catholic schools, Shrove Tuesday heralds the coming of Lent. This year, however, for many schools, there were no pancakes prepared by staff or community volunteers. The pancake breakfast, a tradition beloved by students and staff, like so many other community celebrations, have been impacted by COVID-19. This includes Ash Wednesday.
Inherent to our Ash Wednesday ritual are the words spoken at the tracing of the cross on our forehead: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” This year, within schools, there were no words spoken, nor a cross traced upon the forehead. Instead, a reverent silence was observed as our chaplains sprinkled ashes upon our heads. This was different from our normal experience of receiving the blessed ashes. Seeing the cross of ashes on the foreheads of friends and school staff is always intriguing for students and for others in the wider community who often ask what the mark means. We might say something to the effect of: “The blessed ashes remind us that we are marked by God and demonstrates to others that we are committing to change, a conversion of heart, in preparation for Easter.”
This year, however, there were no casual inquiries about ashes upon foreheads. Again, this is one of the effects of the pandemic. We understand that the experience of some students and staff in terms of our faith celebrations, many relegated to online experiences, are not as we have been accustomed. There is, however, consistency in our Ash Wednesday scriptures. This steadfastness of the Word is important especially during these times of change.
The readings we experience on Ash Wednesday help our students and staff understand that we all have a need for repentance and that “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in kindness” (Joel 2:13). St. Paul reminds us that the world sees the presence of Christ in the way we act (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:1). This is central to the Catholic school whereby through action and word, and the example of Christ, students are inspired to learn and are prepared to live fully and to serve God in one another. Finally, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are to be conducted humbly. These actions are inherent in our personal Lenten journey.
Although the pandemic has changed many of the routines in our schools and impacted how we perform our rituals, we know that our faith traditions and the gift of Catholic Education give us resiliency and the hope to persevere in times of challenge. We are each called to bear witness to Jesus who models the necessity to walk humbly with God and with each other towards the renewal, hope, and transformation that culminates in Easter. Lent invites us to journey through the desert of our sin to the foot of the cross and ultimately, to share in the light of the resurrection of Jesus. We are, after all, Easter people. That will not change!
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers