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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame welcomes Lent season with Mardi Gras celebration

A line of students snaked through the South Dining Hall lobby Tuesday evening for the Mardi Gras celebration, featuring an ice sculpture, king cake giveaways, a New Orleans-style brass band, Cajun-style food and invitations to partake more wholly in the spiritual practice of the Lenten season.

On Ash Wednesday at Notre Dame, one can attend five masses and nine straight hours of confession in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart alone. And throughout Lent, Campus Ministry supplies numerous one-time and recurring events to help students “engage with” their faith.

Basilica rector Fr. Brian Ching said that Lent, amidst the hustle and bustle of the academic semester, is all about cultivating the proper mindset for Easter.

“Especially at a place like Notre Dame, preparation for us really means thoughtfulness,” Ching said. “It’s so easy for us to get caught up in the 600 things you have to do each day… It’s easy for us to jump from one task to the next. And even put faith in that, right. It’s easy to make going to mass one of those tasks and not be as attentive to how God is working in our life.”

A New Orleans-style brass band performs in South Dining Hall for Mardi Gras.
A New Orleans-style brass band performs in South Dining Hall for Mardi Gras.

Assistant vice president for campus ministry Fr. Pete McCormick said the purpose of Lent and fasting is to enhance one’s imitation of Christ.

“I think when it comes to Lent, the question that we’re invited to ponder is at the end of this is, ‘How might I be a bit more like Jesus?’” McCormick said. “[Then the next] question is, ‘What do you need for that?’ And so some people might be like, ‘I need to give up chocolate,’ because that would help. Okay, do that. But it might be something completely different.”

On top of the regular mass and confession schedule, the Basilica provides two additional liturgical prayer offerings during Lent: adoration on Mondays and stations of the cross on Fridays.

“[The stations of the cross] ultimately help us remember how much God loves us because he was willing to suffer and die for us…,” Ching said. “[Adoration gives] people the opportunity to just step out of themselves for a little bit and place themselves very thoughtfully and intentionally in God’s presence so that they can grow in their relationship with Him.”

Beyond liturgical services, weekly happenings furnished by campus ministry include “Do Nothing” experiences, Latino and Asian student ministry Bible studies, Lenten small groups and Emmaus walks.

Diana Salgado Huicochea, the assistant director of outreach at Campus Ministry, said that Lent is a convenient time to kickstart programming and expand visibility for Asian, Black and Latino student ministry. The Lenten Bible studies, offered due to the broad appeal of scripture among all Christian denominations, are open to “anyone and everyone,” Salgado Huicochea added.

“It’s just a space where people can feel comfortable talking about faith and also their own personal life experience, which sometimes involves a lot of hardship,” Salgado Huicochea said. “We wanted to offer these spaces where students of color could come in and feel that they don’t have to explain themselves.”

A performance of “The Passion” on South Quad, a Mardi Gras celebration in South Dining Hall, a silent directed retreat and a Black ecumenical prayer service are a few of the one-off events on Campus Ministry’s Lenten schedule.

“[The Black ecumenical prayer service] will be a coming together to pray as a community during the Lenten Season…,” Salgado Huicochea said. “We are trying to bring up a pastor from the South Bend community, a student will be giving a reflection, we will be doing worship music and doing readings.”

While all prayer opportunities offered to Notre Dame students are optional, there is one University Lenten practice unavoidable to undergraduates: the absence of meat in the dining halls on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent.

Regarding the absence of meat from the dining halls during Lent, McCormick said he probably holds a minority opinion relative to the student body.

“There are certain aspects of who we are as a Catholic community, where you’re going to be impacted,” McCormick said. “We don’t really hide the ball that Notre Dame is a Catholic institution. I really do believe that an expression of our Catholic character is this discipline around giving up meat on Fridays during the season of Lent.”

Ching said that the goal of prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent isn’t to make students miserable but to call people — out of the monotony of their lives — to be more attentive about God and self.

“No meat on Ash Wednesday and no meat on Good Friday and Fridays of Lent — there’s something about that particular aspect of the tradition that even if [one is] not a regular Mass goer, it's something that makes you feel like you’re doing something to grow closer to God, which of course you are,” Ching said.

McCormick added that screwing up Lenten obligations happens.

“There was one Messiah, and it is not us,” McCormick said. “And there are going to be times where we make mistakes… As someone who has at times completely forgotten that it’s Friday and wolfed down a burger… only to realize at the end that it had happened, I’m a big advocate of dusting yourself off and saying my bad and trying again.”