Detroit celebrates Ash Wednesday traditions young and old

A man ponders the crucifixion of Jesus during a “pod” experience of “The Invitation,” an interactive Ash Wednesday program offered at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

Dan Meloy and Mike Stechshulte | The Michigan Catholic

DETROIT — Calling on Catholics to place themselves at the service of the Gospel and one another during Lent, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron offered the imposition of ashes to the faithful during an Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Aloysius Church in downtown Detroit.

“This is a tradition that is rooted in the very words of our Lord and savior; it’s a tradition that goes back at least 20 centuries,” the archbishop said about the Lenten practice of imposing ashes to signal repentance from sin. “We hear from the prophet Joel that our celebration in this time of repentance as members of God’s people in the New Testament is a continuation of the heritage we have from the synagogues.”

But while the tradition of ashes might be timeless, that doesn’t mean Lent itself is about living in the past, Archbishop Vigneron said. On the contrary, he said, St. Paul reminds Christians that repentance is about “the here and now.”

With reporters from major Detroit media outlets in the congregation, as well as many employees from the archdiocese’s downtown Central Services, Archbishop Vigneron has for years used St. Aloysius’ Ash Wednesday Mass as a way to speak to the Catholic faithful in southeast Michigan as the season of Lent begins.

This year, the archbishop reflected upon the “simple skeleton” of Lent amidst the bustle of daily life, saying Lent is first of all “about answering.”

“It isn’t something we take up or a project we invent, but it’s about answering God’s call. He takes the initiative,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “We’re here because we heard Him. Perhaps it’s something we heard on the radio or in the papers, or perhaps it’s something we heard in the recesses of our hearts.”

Across town, at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, a new Ash Wednesday tradition was taking place — “The Invitation,” an interactive Lenten reflection that had participants visiting different pods around the cathedral and engaging in reflections that invoked the senses.

Karen Carmody and her husband, Chris, are missionaries who live in Peru and were visiting family in Metro Detroit and thought the interactive reflection was a powerful way to begin Lent.

“I have a degree in special education, and as part of that degree, I studied different learning styles and multiple intelligences, knowing that people learn in a more profound way,” Carmody said. “I feel when all of our senses are stimulated, our brains, our minds are more fully in the experience in coming before the Lord.”

Cathedral parishioner Mark Justice not only went through the reflection, but also volunteered his time assisting others who made their journey around the cathedral.

“Some of the people were really struck by the stations; each station affects people in a different way,” Justice said. “I had the chance to go through the reflection earlier, and there were two pods (that profoundly affected me) — the nailing of my sins into the cross and the final one, the stone. Just putting myself in the place of the apostles, they had to be very lost at the time, only then to see what they saw three days later.”

Carmody said the pod featuring a simple pair of sandals had a profound effect on her, along with the statues of Jesus placed around the cathedral reflecting on the beatitudes.

“I’ve never sat and just stared at a pair of simple shoes,” Carmody said. “Thinking the same God who created the entire universe would choose such a humble persona. I also enjoyed reflecting on the different statues of Jesus; it’ll be a good point of discussion with my husband and children in looking for Jesus in the disguise of the poor.”