Ash Wednesday observance adapts to COVID-19 pandemic for 1st time

CHICAGO (WLS) -- To celebrate Ash Wednesday 2021, churches got creative with cotton swabs, sprinkling and outdoor services to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Usually ashes are applied by hand to the forehead, but this year at Holy Name Cathedral safety measures included hand sanitizer, face masks and no physical contact.

"Ashes today will not be imposed on the forehead as we usually do," said Bishop Robert Casey. "Rather, they will be sprinkled upon the head of each person."

Sprinkling ashes is one of the method approved by the Archdiocese of Chicago. Stations were set up both inside the church and out throughout the day where people could receive ashes.

In Daley Plaza Urban Village Church handed out do-it-yourself kits. Similar bags were ready for the taking at St. Mary of the Lake Church in Buena Park, where they also applied ashes with cotton swabs, one per person.

"We need to extend our arms as wide as we can to include as many individuals in participating in the journey of Lent," said Connor Ford, St. Mary of the Lake Church.

Ford distributed ashes to a steady stream of people who, for some, see this as a way to reaffirm their faith during a difficult time.

"My grandma would be proud, too, that I keep following the tradition," said Shannon Egan, parishioner.

"It's a little different, but I still felt my faith is very important to me and i still felt the need to get my ashes," said Kattie Wilson, parishioner.

Many churches throughout Chicago, including St. Mary of the Lake, also stayed open into the evening to receive ashes.
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