Churches rolled out creative ideas this week to observe Ash Wednesday, tweaking a centuries-old tradition to meet the demands of a 21st-century pandemic. The Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis sprinkled ashes atop worshipers’ heads and Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church in St. Paul applied ashes with long cotton swabs to folks sitting inside their cars. An Apple Valley church stuffed ashes into 600 Lent-to-Go kits for congregants to pick up and administer on their own.
And Irish priest Fr Brian Brady, of Clonmany in County Donegal found a unique way to allow Catholics in his parish to celebrate Ash Wednesday as he provided packets of ‘takeaway ashes’.
The ashes were offered alongside a set of directions for use and a prayer for the Ash Wednesday service. Fr Brian told the BBC that he has been overwhelmed by the response.
All 600 portions of ashes have been taken away.
Working with his local Centra shop, Father Brian has been producing takeaway pots to allow locals the opportunity to self-administer for the first day of Lent. The local Centra packaged the palm frond ashes into individual pots and delivered them to St Mary’s Church in Clonmany.
When they arrived at the church, Father Brian blessed the pots of ashes and set them out for locals to collect.
“It’s a new experience formed to have people wanting to talk to me,” Fr Brian told BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra programme.
“There’s been a lot of attention and people want more ashes but can’t get them.”
The priest said it was “a nice feeling” that this initiative had meant something to people.
“A lot of our parishioners would come every year for their ashes and it’s so important that we honour those traditions – even at these most difficult times,” he said.
“We really did have to stretch the old imagination on this one though.”
Current Covid-19 restrictions in Ireland mean that churches are closed for worship, leading to a lack of Lenten services this year.
Fr Brian’s thoughtful plan has certainly encouraged community spirit.
Staff at the local Centra have being helping make up the containers, which are usually used to package sauces. The containers are limited to one per household. The pots also come with a prayer for use at home, prepared by Fr Brian.
Instructions about how to apply ashes are on the sheet.
“The advice is to moisten them, but to be careful not to moisten too much as they’ll run down your forehead and nose as has happened to many a poor soul in the past,” Fr Brian said.
(Picture Courtesy: AFP)