||Frs. Eric Nielsen and Mark Miller distribute ashes at St. Paul University Catholic Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Ash Wednesday is the busiest day of the year at St. Paul’s with over 1,900 students attending Mass. (Contributed photo)
MADISON -- The marquee on Library Mall read, “Get your ash to Mass.” And get to Mass they did.
When Ash Wednesday comes around at St. Paul University Catholic Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, it’s all hands on deck.
Our liturgical rotation on Ash Wednesday included three priests, five sacristans, eight altar servers, 10 lectors, dozens of choir members, and 17 ashes-distributors for our five Masses.
Busiest day of year
We needed all the hands we could get. With students typically going back home for Christmas and Easter, Ash Wednesday is by far the busiest day of the year in the St. Paul’s chapel.
This year, over 1,900 students came through our doors to be told that they are dust and to dust they shall return. That number is about double the attendance of a typical Sunday.
Why so popular?
We’re still not sure what makes this day more popular than any Sunday or holy days of obligation.
Apparently, being repeatedly asked the question, “Excuse me, did you know you have dirt on your face?” at every class throughout the day is no deterrent to these students.
More likely, it’s an incentive. The fact that so many hundreds of students on campus would sooner claim Catholicism as an identity than to practice it by, for example, fulfilling the Sunday obligation is an indication that the Catholic brand is alive and well here.
This has major implications for the New Evangelization. It means that more people of the Millennial generation than we might think are willing to give the Catholic faith a chance, but have never discovered a reason to become fully alive in that faith and to actively seek a nearer approach to God.