Banning large gatherings to help slow the spread of the coronavirus has forced changes in the traditional practice of ministers applying ashes to the foreheads of worshipers on Ash Wednesday to mark the start of the Lent season.
While some churches canceled the ceremony altogether, others got a little creative with the ceremony in which the ashes symbolize death and repentance.
At Christ Episcopal Church on Babcock Boulevard in the North Hills, the Ash Wednesday service was celebrated in an empty shrine but a video was recorded to be shown on the church’s website.
The service was followed by the distribution of “take-out ashes” in a drive-through service set up for parishioners to receive ashes that were applied to their foreheads with a cotton swab.
Participants also received a small container of ashes to take home and use with their families.
“Things are different this year due to the pandemic, so we have found a way to do our Ash Wednesday service while keeping people safe,” said Rev. Canon James D. Shoucair, Rector of the church. “I think it’s important that even though we can’t get together as a group, we find ways to stay connected to each other.”
About 40 people signed up to receive ashes at the 1 p.m. drive-through event and many more picked up containers of ashes that have been left inside the church over the past few days for they can observe Ash Wednesday at home.
The Catholic churches in the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Greensburg may have received ashes. But instead of the priest making the sign of the cross on their foreheads using ashes, the ashes were sprinkled over their heads to eliminate direct contact.
“This method of receiving ashes is common in other countries,” said Father Tom Kunz, assistant secretary general and vicar for canonical services in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
“Our parishioners will always receive these blessings and will always be able to participate in these solemn days, but the extenuating circumstances of our time oblige us to adapt this year,” said Archbishop Larry J. Kulick of the Diocese of Greensburg.
Churches that did formerly public worship services required those present to wear masks and observe social distancing and other safety measures.