Churches looked a little bit different this year for Ash Wednesday, which serves as the beginning to the Lenten Period leading up to Easter.
Many people went to mass over Zoom or were able to attend an in person service with limited capacity. Church pews have been roped off to encourage social distancing and masks were required.
For Brianna Murphy, a junior at University of Illinois, it was her first time attending in person mass since the beginning of the pandemic. “One thing that stood out to me was when we’re supposed to hold hands with our neighbors,” she said, “I automatically reached thinking my neighbor would too. I didn’t realize that I was 6 ft apart.”
Murphy said she attended a service at St. Matthew’s in Champaign.
Another surprise at St. Matthew’s was the offering of low gluten communion according to Tom Scully, a senior at University of Illinois. “I was really happy to be able to participate in communion,” said Scully. “I don’t eat foods that contain gluten, so I was glad to see that churches are becoming more accommodating.”
St. John Newman’s Catholic Center on campus offered similar arrangements according to Luke Ahern, a Junior at U of I.
“The communion aspect was altered for COVID precautions,” said Ahern. “The traditional distribution of ashes on the forehead as the beginning of the Lenten season was modified to sprinkling the ashes on top of the recipient’s head.”
Ahern was surprised that they offered communion in general because it required people to remove their masks, but he was happy they allowed it.
The practice of sprinkling ashes on the top of the head was adopted from European churches.
Newman Catholic Center also allowed people to sign up to receive their ashes in their cars if they attended the service online for those who were uncomfortable attending mass in person.