Receiving ashes “a wonderful moment”

DANBURY – Marking the beginning of Lent, hundreds of Catholics flocked to area churches on Ash Wednesday to receive ashes in an unusual way.

At St. Peter Church on Main Street, a steady stream of people entered the neo-Gothic church in the late afternoon to participate in the tradition of personal acknowledgement of sin and a desire to seek forgiveness from God.

“I think it was fantastic to be able to come to church to receive ashes today,” said parishioner Karen Scalzo.

Scalzo said she was a little concerned when she heard that ashes were being sprinkled on the head, due to COVID-related contact restrictions.

“When I saw people coming out of church with actual crosses on their forehead, even if they had to use a cotton swab, I was relieved. That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Scalzo said.

Parishes were given the option of distributing ashes either by sprinkling them on top of a person’s head or by making the traditional sign of the cross on the forehead with a cotton swab.

Pastor Gregg Mecca said he was grateful to be given the option by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano and decided to use the cotton swab method since a cross on the forehead is more akin to what parishioners are accustomed.

Fr. Mecca said it was important to keep some normalcy to the tradition during a time when people are enduring so many changes and uncertainty because of the pandemic. Sprinkling ashes on the top of people’s heads, rather than marking foreheads with ashes is the customary practice at the Vatican and in Italy.

In addition to the change in how ashes were distributed, parishes also had the option to offer a time when the faithful could come to church to receive ashes outside of Mass or the Liturgy of the Word. Fr. Mecca said that option was crucial in addressing the needs of the congregation especially since morning masses were at or near COVID-restricted capacity.

“I’ve been watching mass on TV but to be able to come into the church is wonderful,” said parishioner Laura Halas. “I feel more connected.”

That was the sentiment shared by many parishioners who were very grateful to be able to participate in a tradition, albeit in a non-traditional way.

“Every Sunday morning, we watch mass online,” said parishioner Ron Kreho. “We’ve been doing that for a year now but it’s so good to be here,” he said adding that he has medical concerns and is awaiting his second vaccine shot before he will feel more comfortable being in public places.

The walk-in period allowed Fr. Mecca to briefly chat and reconnect with parishioners he hadn’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

“It’s good to see familiar faces,” he said. A sentiment echoed by many including parishioner Danielle Ford. “I miss being here and seeing everyone and the priests.”