FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) -- The coronavirus pandemic is impacting how thousands across our area are observing Ash Wednesday.
"It is very different, yeah. There's a lot of precautions," Madeline Ganser said.
Catholics and some Protestant denominations observe Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent.
In addition to roping off pews at the Cathedral to encourage social distancing, and everyone having to wear masks, a key component of the mid-day Ash Wednesday mass was also different as a way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Typically, a priest dips his thumb in ashes made from the previous year's palm fronds from Palm Sunday and draws a cross on a parishioner's forehead, then the next, and the next.
However, because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year, at the direction of Pope Francis in Rome, the Vatican urged priests to sprinkle ashes on the crown of the head instead.
"I think that maybe a couple of people found it a bit sad because it's kind of a display of your faith, and you don't necessarily get to do that with your hair. But I think that it's the proper thing to do in a time like this," Ganser added.
"I know that the Pope is giving that directive in the hope that keeping the COVID virus at bay as best we can as a Christian community, and I think that's important to a lot of people," Patrice Zoch said.
The ashes are seen as a physical reminder about the 40 days of lent leading up to Easter, a period dedicated to repentance, spiritual discipline, and giving up sinful habits.
Parishioners said having ashes on their foreheads would sometimes prompt others to ask them about the mark, opening the door for a conversation about their faith.
"It's probably going to be less distracting maybe, but definitely I prefer it when it was on the forehead instead of the top of the head," Alex Suarez said.
Some churches are taking it a bit further by distributing small bags of ashes for people to mark their own foreheads, or hosting drive throughs and using hand sanitizer between cars.
It remains to be seen whether the coronavirus pandemic will impact Ash Wednesday services in 2022.