Pandemic Changes Ash Wednesday as Catholics Receive Ashes on Their Heads, Recall a Year of Sacrifice

Tags: Currents Ash Wednesday, Ashes, Brooklyn, NY, Coronavirus, COVID VACCINE, Crux, Faith, Lent, Lent and Easter, Pope Francis, Queens, NY, World News

By Jessica Easthope

Lent in the pandemic age means another change to how we practice our faith. This year, Catholics in the Diocese of Brooklyn are being sprinkled with ashes on the crowns of their heads instead of a prominent cross on their foreheads. And instead of the words “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel,” there’s silence.

“Some people are not too happy about it, but they want that sign,” said Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio. “But it has to be internal now, can’t be external.”

This “new” way of doing things isn’t actually new at all — it’s ancient.

“The ancient forms of penance were sackcloth and ashes, to show that you were really penitent and that you were really giving up things that were pleasurable,” Bishop DiMarzio said.

Lent is a time of sacrifice, getting us ready for Christ’s Resurrection on the most holy day, Easter. But in a year that’s called for so much sacrifice, how can we give up anything more?

“Sacrifice is all part of life and sometimes you have to sacrifice a little bit more than other times, and this has been one of those years when sacrifice has been the epitome of it,” said Isabel Navarro, who’s been a parishioner at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James for nearly 40 years.

Isabel says the sacrifices she’s made this year have allowed her to appreciate her life even more.

“He sacrificed for us, we sacrifice a little bit for Him. And compared to His, it’s nothing,” she said.

And Isabel’s not the only one who feels that way.

“As we enter this season of Lent understanding the sacrifices that have been made for us and the blood that was shed, I feel this is nothing compared to what the Lord had to go through,” said Marie Calixte, who’s a parishioner at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Flatlands, Brooklyn, but attended Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James on her lunch break from work.

This year people are showing their sacrifice on the inside, but the pandemic still lingered in the front of everyone’s minds.

“I’m just hoping as of today — Ash Wednesday —on forward, there are a lot of changes in this pandemic. Because a lot of people are dying and hopefully God is watching over everybody, and helps us get past this pandemic safely,” said Miguel Deida, who also attended the Mass because he was nearby, but is a parishioner at Our Lady of Angels in Bay Ridge.

For many, giving something up has transformed into giving more of themselves.

“I’m not really giving up. I’m increasing more in prayer, meditation and spending time with family,” Marie said.

“There’s so much to be done, people to help. Things you can do are greater than saying you’ll sacrifice. The more you give, the more you’re going to get back,” said Isabel.

A lot is different, but why we sacrifice will never change.