Lenten Ads, Articles Reveal Students’ Traditions, Attitudes, And Sacrifices

Whether they observe Lent or not, it’s hard for most Boston College students to avoid some chatter about these 40 days before Easter. The Heights has often made some mention of the religious season over the years, whether to gently remind students of their obligations or poke a little fun at a usually somber time.
“Lent is considered a period of opportunity for growth, personal challenge, and a better understanding of one’s self and one’s religion,” wrote Sarah McDermott in 2004. Students quoted in the article talked about Lenten plans ranging from giving up junk food to deciding to cultivate new habits that would hopefully make them better people.

“People give up what is inconvenient for them,” said Kevin O’Leary, BC ’07, in the article. “It should be more than video games. It should be something that is a part of you.”

O’Leary’s opinion falls right in line with the idea that the sacrifices Christians make during Lent should not only bring them closer to God, but should also be representative of the sacrifices Jesus made for them.
Another common sacrifice during Lent is to give up meat on Fridays during the season. The Heights published a little heads-up to confused students in 1967 under the headline “Fish? Fish!” to clarify that this was the reason the Snack Bar hadn’t been serving meat lately.

In 1961, another tidbit suggested something else students could do during Lent: help type up issues of The Heights on production nights.

The year before, Heights editors had suggested that students make the sacrifice of eating all three meals each day in Lyons’ dining hall. “We can’t guess what merit this would gain a student, but anyone following this advice faithfully should store up quite a bit in the Heavenly Treasury,” they wrote, making fun of the poor meal options available there.

A comic printed in a 1953 issue also took a lighthearted approach to Lent. The drawing depicted a student sitting on a blanket on the Quad and happily smoking a hookah pipe while in the shadow of Gasson Hall. The caption below, clearly meant to be a comment from one of the students shown walking past him, read, “It all started when he decided to give up cigarettes for Lent.”

In 1923, students had already anticipated that many of their schoolmates would be giving up smoking and sweets during Lent. An event called the Radio Smoker, sponsored by the Radio Club, was called off because its organizers “did not wish to be the cause of any student’s not keeping his resolutions, for no doubt most will swear off cigars, cigarettes and Eskimo pies during Lent.”

Two years later, editors noted with pleasure the increased number of students who had been attending daily Mass during Lent. “It is hoped by the Student Counselor that those who are availing themselves of this opportunity by so manifesting their devotion will continue their good work,” the note read.

Other articles and small reminders throughout the years have encouraged students to make some sort of sacrifice or attend to their religious duties more dutifully during Lent.

A 1901 article in the Sacred Heart Review, the newspaper of Newton College of the Sacred Heart before the college was annexed to BC, noted that abstaining from intoxicating drinks during Lent was a commendable sacrifice. It’s worth noting that this year on campus, students have organized a similar campaign to encourage their classmates to give up alcohol for Lent.

In 1939, an advertisement for the Bookstore reminded students that religious articles were available in the BC Bookstore. “A Rosary is a very essential part of every Boston College man’s Lenten devotional,” the ad read. A book fair held during one week of Lent in 1957 offered Catholic books for sale, giving students another set of materials to help them observe Lent faithfully.

That same year, BC’s Bellarmine Law Club threw a “Last Chance (before Lent) Dance,” although it’s unclear from the short article what it was the last chance for students to do.

Throughout the 1980s, students could take advantage of Lenten evening retreats in Barat House, which offered two hours of reflection and prayer.

Over the years, students have observed the season with both faith and fun, making the best of a sometimes-stressful time when cigarettes and sweets have been off-limits for weeks. The one constant, it seems, is that every BC student seems to be aware that for 40 days before spring truly begins and Easter break arrives, there’s something a little different about students’ attitudes around campus.


March 16, 2014