Bishop DiMarzio leads the faithful at Mass on Ash Wednesday
DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — This Ash Wednesday, priests and bishops across the Diocese of Brooklyn imposed ashes in a new way due to the ongoing pandemic.
Under Pope Francis’ recommendation, ashes were sprinkled on worshippers’ heads instead of drawing the sign of the cross on the forehead.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who celebrated the Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James on Feb. 17, spoke about how challenging the past year has been due to the pandemic. However, he noted, Lent is a time for renewing faith, hope, and love, as well as for believing and welcoming God into our lives.
[Related: A Brief History: The Practice of Sprinkling Ashes]
“Our hope is assured that, when we repent and ask for God’s help in changing our lives, we will find that help to come to us,” Bishop DiMarzio said during his homily. “Together, my brothers and sisters, we make this Lenten journey. We begin it today in earnest.
“We make sure that we will do all we can to deepen our relationship to God, but not forgetting that that also depends on our relationship with one another.”
St. James would have usually seen more than 100 people filing into the cathedral to receive their ashes throughout the day, according to Deacon Ronald Rizzuto, pastoral associate at St. James. This year, St. James held only one midday Mass and one afternoon prayer service.
“We saw a little less than normal, but it was almost the same,” Deacon Rizzuto noted in regards to the attendance when the noon Mass concluded. “We were so happy Bishop DiMarzio was here to celebrate Mass, and I thought it went very well.”
“The sprinkling of ashes is easier, but it’s much more symbolic because it’s supposed to be a conversion from within,” he continued.
After a difficult year in which many have sacrificed so much, parishioners were grateful to be celebrating Lent in person. Isabel Navarro, a parishioner of St. James for nearly 40 years, remarked that, although the imposition of ashes may have changed, the purpose remains the same.
“It is something different, something to look forward to,” she said regarding this year’s modification of the ashes being sprinkled, not smudged. “At least we’re having the Lenten services [and] ashes — it’s still all good. And being in the church, being here, is the best thing.”
Sacrifices Are Part of Life
Navarro also reflected on how sacrifices are a normal part of life and that Jesus Christ made the ultimate sacrifice in giving up His life for us.
“It’s just a good way to start the Lenten season,” she added. “To meditate on it, to think about what it means to us, what it means to sacrifice, and assess things ahead of our sacrifice. And [thinking about] what you could sacrifice for yourself, for others.”
Similarly, Marie Calixte, a special needs educator for children and families who went to the St. James Mass during her lunch break, said it has been a blessing for the church to be open at all.
“I understand having it on the forehead has significance, but I’m happy wherever it is and just to be here to receive it,” Calixte said about the ashes.
Rather than making a sacrifice this year, Calixte plans on dedicating more time to prayer, meditation, and family.
Our Lady of Angels parishioner Miguel Deida, who attended the Ash Wednesday Mass at St. James, believes making a Lenten sacrifice is more important than ever this year.
“Because what you do this year shows that, after everything that’s happened, you really mean it,” he said. “We’re all hoping for the best.”
This year’s penitential and grace-filled Lenten season concludes on April 1, and Easter will be celebrated on April 4.