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Smith Celebrates Ecumenical Ash Wednesday

A Report by Sofia Walker '11

Ashes were given at the Ash Wednesday service, marking the beginning of Lent.

Wednesday March 9 marked Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and Smith students of various denominations gathered at Helen Hills Hills Chapel to contemplate the significance of the occasion. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, a period of fasting and sacrifice meant to remind us of our mortality and of Christ's sacrifice to humanity. The Lenten season culminates in Easter, when Christians can eat as much chocolate as they want and return to a less rigorous daily life. Ash Wednesday is a bit graver, coming as it does at the beginning of the season.

Smith's service opened with organ music, but Dean Walters observed that it is a service of contemplation, and she wished to make plenty of room for silence. Between each of the scripture readings offered by students she rang a bell and the congregation maintained silence for a minute or two, considering what they had just heard. Although Lent is an occasion to give up material possessions and live more modestly, the first reading, from the book of Joel, reminded the audience to "rend your hearts, not your clothes," for it is the interior sacrifice that is most significant. Carolyn Jacobs, Dean of the School for Social Work, exhorted us to ask ourselves "How well have we loved our God? How well have we loved others? Sacrifice teaches us to be present to this precious love."

The high point of any Ash Wednesday service is of course the Imposition of the Ashes, wherein ashes made of the palm leaves from Palm Sunday are applied to the forehead of each member of the congregation in the shape of a cross. Students approached the altar in two lines, taking ashes from the bowls held by Deans Jacobs and Walters and applying them to the forehead of the person behind while speaking the ritual words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Catherine McGuinness, who read Psalm 51, expressed her joy at sharing the occasion with fellow Smithies of all denominations. "Participating in the service gives me a sense of deeper communion with other Smithies. This isn't exactly a common conversation on campus. We tend to want to stick to the traditions we're familiar with, and this is a wonderful place to explore others." After more readings and a hymn, the congregation dispersed to go about their business, but the ashes remained on their foreheads as a reminder of the significance of the day.