It’s a day that usually requires a lot of personal contact for believers who get ash in the form of a cross rubbed on their foreheads.
But that all changes during the coronavirus pandemic, when such close contact with a stranger isn’t exactly social distancing.
“How would you do this safely?” said Fr. Christopher Heanue, of Holy Child Jesus Church. “Would one now have to Purell their hands after every person?”
In a year in which pews are taped off and and churches are doing most services virtually, it’s no surprise that the very physical nature of Ash Wednesday might call for some sort of spiritual pivot.
As a result, some churches are refraining from the physical imposition of ashes.
At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown, Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan will celebrate Mass at noon to mark the beginning of Lent, the 40-day period of Increased prayer, penitence, fasting, and acts of charity in preparation for Easter on April 4.
Dolan will begin the day by helping to distribute food at 7 a.m. at the St. Francis of Assisi Breadline, outside St. Francis of Assisi Church. Ashes WILL be distributed at St. Patrick’s following Mass at 7 a.m., noon and 5:30 p.m., and according to the Archdiocese of New York, it will be done “respectfully following social distance guidelines.”
The noon Mass will be livestreamed.
The Brooklyn Diocese will not distribute ashes in the traditional form and will instead be sprinkling them on one’s head.
“We’re not putting on these ashes as a sign of, ‘Look at me and how holy I am,'” Fr. Heanue said. “We’re doing it because it is an interior relationship with our God.”
Officials say this is a method widely used in Europe that will enable them to celebrate the beloved custom in a safe manner this year.
The Cathedral of St. John the Devine in Washington Heights is hosting an outdoor Ash Wednesday services at noon and 7 p.m., as well as virtual services.
The Cathedral will join the other Episcopalians in the Diocese of New York in refraining from the physical imposition of ashes.
And at some churches, there is yet another option. In a year in which curbside pickup has become a thing, some churches are giving out ashes that way — with parishioners picking them up and put them on during a Zoom service.
The bottom line is that you might see ashes in many different forms on Wednesday, not meant as disrespect, but as a way to keep the faith and stay COVID safe at the same time.
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Originally published at https://abc7ny.com/religion/ash-wednesday-changes-for-some-amid-covid-pandemic/10347358/ on .