Bishop Cancels Ash Wednesday Services at HSU and ACU

(Editor’s Note: Bishop Sis has canceled the Ash Wednesday services that were scheduled to be held in Abilene Feb. 17)

By LORETTA FULTON

Weather and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic permitting, Bishop Michael Sis of the Diocese of San Angelo will be in Abilene Wednesday for two Ash Wednesday services.

But those services won’t be in one of the four local Catholic parishes. Instead, Sis will be at Baptist-affiliated Hardin-Simmons University at 4 p.m. and at Church of Christ-affiliated Abilene Christian University at 5:30. The services will be in HSU’s Logsdon Chapel and ACU’s Chapel on the Hill.

This isn’t something new for Sis, who started his college ministry at St. Mary Catholic Center at Texas A&M University, first as parochial vicar, then as pastor. Since becoming bishop of the San Angelo Diocese on December 12, 2013, Sis has made a habit of performing Ash Wednesday services on the campuses of the colleges and universities in the diocese. He rotates the services among the campuses each year and was in Abilene in 2017 and 2019.

Since many of the people attending the services aren’t Catholic, Sis notes that the service is not a Mass but an Ash Wednesday liturgy. Communion, which is open only to Catholics in a Mass, is not served. Instead, Sis explains the meaning of Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of the 40-day period of Lent that leads to Easter.

Before the actual Imposition of Ashes rite began at Hardin-Simmons two years ago, Sis explained the significance of Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.

“It helps you understand what these crazy Catholics are all about,” Sis said.

Bishop Michael Sis with Abilene Christian University student Gerald Zuniga in an Ash Wednesday service at Hardin-Simmons University in 2019. Photo by Loretta Fulton 

In his homily before the Imposition of Ashes at HSU, the bishop explained that Lent is a penitential season but that doesn’t mean it’s a time to be depressed and unhappy. It is more about learning to live a life of abundance by getting rid of things that don’t matter. Putting on his “professor hat,” Sis ran through a litany of things that Lent is not, as a means of teaching what it is.

“It’s not about perfection,” he said. “It’s about moving in the right direction.”

Fasting and abstinence are emphasized during Lent but for a reason.

“It’s not just some kind of Catholic springtime diet,” the bishop joked.

Those practices carry a much richer and deeper meaning, Sis said. They are intended to create an empty space in order to invite Jesus in. Lent is not about obeying the letter of the law, Sis said. In fact, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation for Catholics.

“Rather,” Sis said, “we should allow it to affect our hearts.”

Before beginning the Imposition of Ashes, Sis emphasized that the ritual was not a Catholic Mass and invited people of all denominations to take part.

“You’re simply turning away from sin,” he said.

Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene

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