Ash Wednesday during a pandemic and ice storm in Cenla
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten season. It’s a day where ashes are usually pressed to the foreheads of the faithful in the form of a cross as a reminder of mortality and the start of a spiritual journey leading up to Easter Sunday. However, with COVID-19 precautions and the severe winter weather this week, there have been some changes at local churches.
News Channel 5 reached out to the Catholic Diocese of Alexandria and the Horseshoe Drive United Methodist Church to see how local churches are handling COVID-19 safety precautions and the winter storm.
Last month, the Vatican announced new guidelines for distributing ashes. The priest will bless the ashes, sprinkling them with holy water in silence. He will address those present, saying, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return”. The priest is then instructed to wash his hands, put on a facemask, and sprinkle the heads of anyone wishing to participate with the blessed ashes in silence.
Due to the winter weather road conditions, Bishop Robert Marshall of the Diocese of Alexandria announced that in this one instance, he is permitting priests in the diocese to administer ashes at Masses this weekend (Feb 20 and Feb 21). He encourages participants to check their local churches for information on Mass schedules this week.
We also spoke with local priest Father Chad Partain from Saint Frances Cabrini Church to give us some context as to why Pope Francis chose the altered method of ash distribution during the pandemic.
“We will revert to an actual ancient practice, which is the sprinkling of ashes on the crowns of people’s heads,” Fr. Partain said. “That way there is no physical contact, but it is also an ancient gesture. It’s also a good reminder that on the day of our baptism, we were anointed with sacred chrism, blessed oil, on the crowns of our heads. This is another way of drawing back to that baptismal gesture.”
Fr. Partain said that everything else will pretty much be as usual, with the current COVID-19 precautions already in place.
“The use of the ashes is a very poignant reminder of the fact that we are dust and unto dust, we shall return,” Fr. Partain continued. “Ash Wednesday is one of those days in the church liturgy, where we stop and say, it’s true, that life is short and death is real. And we need that kind of wake-up call in our lives every now and then so that we can reorient, gain a new perspective...a way for us to stop and remember that time is precious. That’s what Lent is. It’s a chance for us to do as much as we can in the time that we have to live in earnest. It’s a good reminder to take this life seriously and to use this time that we have in order to grow in faith, hope and love.”
Ashes will be distributed at Catholic Masses on Ash Wednesday if available (check your local church parish if Mass is being offered), or at Masses this weekend.
Methodists’ Drive-Thru Ashes
Each year, the Horseshoe Drive United Methodist Church usually provides a “drive-thru” style ash distribution for the community in downtown Alexandria near Tamp & Grind. However, due to road conditions, the ash distribution has been canceled.
Prior to the cancellation, we spoke with Rev. Mollie McGee on her thoughts about Ash Wednesday.
“People are always in need of prayer,” said. Rev. McGee. “People are always in need of just knowing someone is there to listen and care for them, that sometimes there’s a greater power listening to those prayers and needs. I think that’s one way that Ash Wednesday allows us to connect with each other and connect to the fact that we’re all human, we’re all in this world together. Ash Wednesday is about recognizing our mortality, that we are human and we are broken and we’re not perfect.”
“The focus for this Lenten season for my own church, and for our own spirituality, is to deepen our relationship with God, getting back to those practices of reading scripture, daily prayer, and doing works of kindness,” she continued. “So we’re going to be creating opportunities in the community and invite our neighbors to join us online.”
CLICK HERE for the Horseshoe Drive United Methodist Church Facebook Page for more updates and to connect with them if you are in need of prayer.
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