Mercyhurst celebrates Ash Wednesday with various COVID-friendly ceremonies


Samantha Weber, Staff writer

This year, Ash Wednesday fell on Feb. 17. It was the start of Lent for 2021. The Lenten season ends on Easter Sunday when the Paschal Triduum of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord begins. Lent comes to an end this year on April. 4

Until then, Mercyhurst is tasked with ensuring that Lenten ceremonies and rituals can continue in a safe way for all those who want to observe this religious time.

Mercyhurst University’s Cam-pus Ministry has done an exceptional job at adjusting their services to accommodate for the proper protocols regarding COVID-19. Ash Wednesday will not be an exception to their efforts to ensure students still get a fulfill-ing worship experience, including the distribution of ashes during the pandemic.

To start, there were four opportunities to get ashes on Wednesday. There were three Catholic Masses, one at 8 a.m., one at 4 p.m., and one at 7 p.m. There was also a Christian Prayer Service at 12 p.m. where students could also get ashes.

All participants of mass were required to remain socially distant, wear their masks at all times, and allow for proper sanitization. Of course, it looked different than in previous years, but there are some restrictions that must be followed to ensure everyone’s safety.

Unlike past years, once a mass is filled, there are no more people admitted into the chapel. These people have to come back and attend a different mass. In order to prevent people from being disappointed upon arriving to a celebration that is at capacity, Mercyhurst offered four different chances to receive ashes.

Traditionally, on Ash Wednesday, the ashes are placed on one’s forehead in the shape of a cross by the hand of the priest. This year, due to COVID-19, that is not allowed. To combat that barrier, churches have been asked to sprinkle the ashes onto the crown of the person’s head.

While this is the first year in the United States where more people will be experiencing the sprinkling of the ashes instead of receiving them on their foreheads, it has been a tradition in many other countries in the past.

It is common in Europe and in most non-English speaking countries to sprinkle the ashes onto the crown of one’s head. The tradition claims to focus more on the spiritual entry into this time of repentance in the church.

There are many other traditions that occur during the Lenten season. They include obligatory fast-ing for anyone between the ages of 18- 58 on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, which means only one big meal, two smaller food breaks to sustain strength and no snacking in between these meals. Additionally, on those two days and every Friday throughout Lent, people ages 14 and up must abstain from eating meat. However, this year, the Solemnity of St. Joseph falls on Mar. 19 so the abstinence from meat on that Friday is not mandatory.

Traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and alms-giving and other forms of self-denial are recommended warmly by the church for the next 40 days. Daily Mass is particularly encouraged.

With the cooperation of the Mission and Admissions Offices, beginning Feb. 22, Christ the King Chapel will have “quiet time” from 3-4 p.m. Monday through Friday so that members of the Mercyhurst community may use the chapel for prayer and reflection.

Lenten Art Journaling is also scheduled to take place between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on March 11 and March 25.

Anyone interested should email Jenell Patton ( to reserve one of the four tables in the Campus Ministry Lounge. No art experience is necessary and you will be provided with the prompt and supplies for each session.

“My hope for Lent this year is that people see it as an opportunity, not for just penitence but as a season of hope moving us for-ward to being our best selves in relationship with God,” Fr. Jim Piszker, Chaplain here at Mercyhurst, said.

Since students will be on campus for Easter this year, Campus Ministry is trying to plan something special that weekend to allow the students to still feel like they are celebrating Easter as they would be at home.

This is the first time the school would be doing something like this because students are not usually at school for the holiday.