Ash Wednesday is still popular in Ireland. As rates of practice have dropped in recent years, many people still make a point of getting ashes on this day. Yet because of the lockdowns due to the Coronavirus, this year there will be no public liturgies to mark Ash Wednesday in Ireland this year. While others debate the merits of ashes being imposed on the forehead or the crown of the head, here in the Emerald Isle, as in other parts of the world, we will simply not be able to gather together.
Yet this has given rise to a certain creativity. One parish in County Cork has organized a “US-style Ash Wednesday ‘drive-through.’” The BBC is also reporting that in County Donegal “takeaway Ashes” are being offered. Here the local Centra supermarket has helped to package the ashes in plastic containers that usually contain the sauce for takeaway (or fast food) meals.
Meanwhile Trócaire, the official overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland (the Irish version of Caritas) is facing a huge fundraising challenge as all schools are closed and normally a third of their annual budget comes from collection boxes that nearly every child in the nation receives through the Catholic primary school network. The Trócaire box is a sure sign of Lent in many Irish households. Indeed some of the legendary “Irish Mammys” enforced a penalty of a mandatory donation to the box every time someone used bad language or swore in the house during Lent.
Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Roman Catholic Primate of All Ireland, today released a message to Irish families encouraging them “to pray together, fast and be generous this Lent.” He also “launched the #LivingLent initiative on Twitter and Instagram for Lent 2021. #LivingLent invites the faithful to use social media to grow closer to God during this sacred season.”
But as we face this most unusual Ash Wednesday, the fundamentals of the Christian call to Prayer, Fasting and Abstinence remains possible to all Christians whether or not they have received ashes or not.
We had almost fifty people stop by to pick up “takeaway ashes” yesterday at our parish using those same condiment cups with lids. It seemed like a good way to maintain a connection with families who weren’t able to come to in-person Mass (although we had two of those, as well). I’m praying for the time when we can all be together in our churches again, but until then, I’m grateful to see this kind of creativity.