Windsor-Essex to mark Ash Wednesday with virtual services

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to mark crosses with ashes on churchgoers as usual.

COVID-19 restrictions have meant cancellation of in-person worship

A woman from the Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver receives a drive-by blessing for Ash Wednesday in 2019. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Ash Wednesday will be marked differently this year.

Usually, Christians participate in services that include having a priest or pastor mark a sign of the cross on a person's forehead or back of hand, but with COVID restrictions in place, that won't be happening this year.

"I'd say, by and large, people are fed up with the COVID situation. They're dying to get back to church. They miss their friends, they miss the worship service," said Rev. Frank Staples of Riverside United Church.

The church is not holding its usual Ash Wednesday service this year due to the pandemic. Instead, there will be a pre-taped service that will go on the church's website the night before.

"But what we'll do is best we can with the worship team, the small, small worship team that I have gathered to record the service — we'll maintain social distancing. What I'll do is probably mark my wife's forehead and she in turn will mark mine. So just to give an example, a physical example of it being done, and that'll have to suffice, I suppose," said Staples.

Windsor-Essex has been in a lockdown since mid-December, and the province later implemented further restrictions including a stay-at-home order. 

Under the rules, the capacity limit for in-person religious services is set at 10 people as long as masking and physical distancing can be maintained, but many congregations have moved to virtual services.

The Catholic Diocese of London is cancelling all Ash Wednesday services. The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School will hold a virtual service online for students to log onto at home and in class.

The superintendent responsible for faith issues, Joseph Ibrahim, said it in no way diminishes the importance of the day.

"The prayer and fasting in the Catholic tradition, that's an important part of our faith and we do that with the hope of greater things to come," said Ibrahim.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter. This year, Ash Wednesday falls on Feb. 17.

The hope, Ibrahim said, is for a more normal Easter.

"I believe that when we are eventually out of the pandemic I think it will help people appreciate what we do have," said Ibrahim.


Dale Molnar

Video Journalist

Dale Molnar is an award-winning video journalist at CBC Windsor. He is a graduate of the University of Windsor and has worked in television, radio and print.