Ash Wednesday liturgies held on Capitol Hill

Ash Wednesday liturgies held on Capitol Hill

Fr Bill Carloni (left) and Fr. Pat Conroy, SJ, at the distribution of ashes on Capitol Hill, 2019. Credit: CNA
Fr Bill Carloni (left) and Fr. Pat Conroy, SJ, at the distribution of ashes on Capitol Hill, 2019. Credit: CNA

.- Catholic members of Congress participated in the traditional Lenten practice of receiving ashes at the Capitol on Wednesday. During the liturgy, legislators and staff were reminded of the importance of Christian witness and service, even in the heart of government.


House of Representatives Chaplain Fr. Pat Conroy, S.J. told the assembly that while many in the public might view Congress as a “trainwreck”, it was important to remember that the work done on Capitol Hill was “holy, because of the holiness that we bring to it.”


The standing-room-only crowd gathered for the Ash Wednesday liturgy March 6. The liturgy was held in a House of Representatives meeting room in the Capitol Visitors’ Center.


Work, Conroy said in his homily, should be viewed as “in some way a response to the impulse of God’s spirit in your life,” and that those who work for Congress are “servants of the Lord when [they] are servants of this institution and the commonwealth of our nation.”


Conroy was assited at the liturgy by Fr. Bill Carloni, the pastor at nearby Holy Name Church in Washington, who helped with the distribution of ashes to members of the House of Representatives, their staff, and staff of the Capitol building.


On Ash Wednesday, Christians, including national politicians, receive ashes as a sign of their contrition and a reminder of their mortality. Throughout the day, on C-Span and in pictures posted to Twitter, members of Congress could be seen wearing small ashen crosses on their foreheads.


Representatives and their staff, as well as anyone else who works in the Capitol, had several chances on Wednesday to receive ashes from Conroy. In addition to daily Mass, ashes were distributed during a Liturgy of the Word held three times during the day.


At the 2:30 p.m. service, at least five members of Congress could be seen in attendance, including Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL).


“I choose to participate in Ash Wednesday as a reminder and recommitment to my faith. I live my faith in Congress through promoting good works to help others, particularly the less fortunate,” Soto told CNA.


Conroy told CNA that he had been distributing ashes each year since he became House Chaplain eight years ago, and his predecessor, Fr. Dan Coughlin, also made a point of holding services on Ash Wednesday.


The Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, who is not Catholic, also offered ash distribution services.


Coughlin and Conroy are the only Catholics to serve as House Chaplain.


Earlier in the day, Conroy told CNA that about eight members came to Mass that morning, and that he had also distributed ashes to about 45 members after votes had concluded.  


“It’s a pretty popular devotion,” said Conroy. He told CNA that many members also chose to receive ashes at one of the nearby Catholic parishes.


Two members of Congress who did not have to wait in line for ashes were Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). Both are practicing Catholics. Conroy told CNA that he had visited their offices earlier in the morning and distributed ashes there.


“I make house calls for leadership,” he explained. Pelosi was spotted wearing ashes during a live-stream video late Wednesday morning.


The practice of wearing ashes on one’s forehead as a form of penance has existed for centuries. While Fr. Conroy’s flock includes some of the most powerful foreheads in the world, he told CNA that he believes they are just like other people of faith, and are in need of redemption.


"I think any person who steps forward to receive ashes--doesn't matter who they are--is at least in some small way acknowledging to themselves that they are in need of repentance, that they are in need of renewal, that they do need to remember who we are, as people of faith, and what we're called to. Even if we're not that good at it," said Conroy.  


"In that sense, I think the population of members of Congress is no different than anybody else."


**This story has been corrected: it previously attributed the homily to Fr. Carloni, who did not preach but proclaimed the Gospel.

Tags: Congress, Ash Wednesday, Fr. Patrick Conroy

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