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'Take cold ashes from the fire grate': Varying approaches to Ash Wednesday in dioceses and parishes around Ireland

Some dioceses are handing out little packets of ashes that can be used at home.

Image: Shutterstock/Martin Podzorny

THERE WILL BE no ash drive-thrus organised for Ash Wednesday, but some parishes are handing out packets of ashes for people to use at home as a work around.

One priest said that drive-thrus would be “hard to reconcile” with Level 5 restrictions, which deems that only essential journeys can be made at the moment.

Although weddings and funerals are permitted with limited numbers of attendees, religious services are not deemed essential under the current Covid restrictions.

However many parishes are making individual, sealable packets of ashes available to the faithful to enable them participate at home.

The V Rev John Carroll of the Diocese of Ferns, Co Wexford said that the plastic packets will be available at Barntown and Glynn churches today for collection. 

“It is vitally important that packs be kept for you own house/ bubble only – you are asked not to share the contents beyond these confines. Bags will be made available for collection in a Covid compliant manner,” he said.

The Diocese of Cork and Ross is organising for special envelopes to be printed and distributed to the parishes. Ashes will be placed in the envelopes and they will be blessed by priests at Mass held behind closed doors. People can then take the envelopes home.

2021-Ash-Wednesday-envelopes Source: Diocese of Cork and Ross

The Elphin Diocese is also handing out ashes, and is among those holding a live-streamed Mass. For those that cannot collect ashes, it shared a prayer on its site.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Archdiocese of Dublin said that it is encouraging people to use ashes at home in order to adhere to social distancing rules.

“The Dublin Diocese are encouraging families to do their own ashes at home. We are inviting families to take cold ashes from the fire grate or gather some earth from the garden,” it said, acknowledging that other parishes are handing out sachets of ashes. 

“The threat of Covid-19 remains stubbornly present in our communities, this year ashes should not be distributed in the traditional way either within or outside our parish churches as this would involve people congregating and possibly breaching the social-distancing rule.

“It is in solidarity with one another and with all our neighbours that we must continue to strictly adhere to social distancing, hand sanitising and the wearing of face coverings.”

Parishes have also made Trócaire donation boxes available to collect from churches from today, as the charity warned that up to a third of its annual donations are at risk because of Covid-19 restrictions curtailing Trócaire boxes being handed out.  

The charity’s Lenten Appeal for donations for developing countries begins from today, but due to school closures and the suspension of Masses, it said that there are around 50% less Trócaire boxes in circulation this year.

Trócaire has asked supporters to collect donations boxes from their local church, if it is safe to do so, but otherwise to make their annual donation online at trocaire.org.

NO FEE 7 Trocaire Box Drive-Thru Yvonne Fitzackery returning her Trócaire box to Fr Paul Thornton at a Trócaire box return drive-thru at St Cronan’s in the Brackenstown Parish, Swords. Source: Mark Stedman

Catholics have traditionally marked Lent by fasting and abstinence from something, with Ash Wednesday marking the beginning of the seven weeks, which ends at Easter.

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By tradition, Ash Wednesday is marked by having ashes made from the burnt palm branches from Palm Sunday placed on foreheads and being reminded, usually by a priest, to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”.

“So Ash Wednesday is important but Lent and Easter even more so,” said Father Diarmuid Hogan, parish priest at Oranmore and communications officer for the Diocese of Galway.

“There is nothing intrinsically important about ashes other than they serve as a visible reminder of the journey ahead, of our mortality and of the possibility of redemption.”

Fr Hogan said that people will be given the sachets and will be encouraged to place the ashes on their own foreheads and say, “I will turn away from sin; I will be faithful to the Gospel”.

The Bishop of Clogher, Bishop Larry Duffy, wrote in his letter to parishioners that receiving ashes will not be possible, but that talks will be held on 24 February, and the 10 and 24 March to talk of “how to renew the Church”.

“Fasting from alcohol, TV, and the consumption of certain foods are traditional favourite forms of penance for Lent,” he wrote.

“Maybe we can do something this year, such as supporting our frontline workers or encouraging compliance with public health regulations in an effort to protect others. These actions could be undertaken as a form of fasting this year.”

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