Ash Wednesday observed differently due to power emergency, winter weather and the COVID-19 pandemic

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Ash Wednesday observances in jeopardy across Houston
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There were already changes planned due to COVID-19. Now, the power and water emergency has added to the challenges.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It was already going to be a different experience. Now, there are even more changes to Ash Wednesday observances across Houston and beyond.

Churches are scaling back activities or canceling services altogether due to a lack of power and water in some places.

You'll want to check with your place of worship before heading to any planned activities. It's far from an all-inclusive list, but here are some of the changes we found in the area.

The Holy Family Catholic Parish in Galveston has canceled its 7 a.m. service, but all other celebrations were still being held as scheduled, pending weather conditions.

St. Laurence Catholic Church in Sugar Land has canceled all activities, including Ash Wednesday services, due to a lack of power.

At the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, there will be a 12:10 p.m. Mass and another at 5 p.m. that will be streamed live. The church will open at 11 a.m.

In west Houston at St. Cecilia Catholic Church, the Ash Wednesday schedule has been modified to just one Mass at 12:15 p.m.

Church leaders at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in west Houston plan to follow their planned schedule, but were understanding of the circumstances facing parishioners.

"We will also distribute ashes at the Sunday Mass this coming weekend, the first Sunday of Advent, for those of you who did not receive them Wednesday," Father William Bueche said in a notice on the church's website.

St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church is offering four celebrations Wednesday at 6:45 a.m., 8:05 a.m., 12:10 p.m., and 6 p.m.

"Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, church officials said in a post on Facebook. "If you cannot prudently attend Holy Mass and the Sacred Litergy on campus, be sure to spend a good chunk of time meditating upon the Sacred Scriptures, inviting the refining fire of the Holy Spirit into your heart, asking for the grace of true repentance, and then, after giving the Lord time to convict and even speak to your heart, make spiritual communion, and then resolve with the Lord your disciplines for this Holy Lenten Season."

Ash Wednesday, also known as the "Day of Ashes," is observed by most Catholics and some Protestant denominations. The occasion is marked (literally) by the practice of rubbing ashes on the forehead of practitioners in the sign of the cross. It's considered a day of prayer and marks the first day of Lent, the 40-day period leading to Easter.

Instead of being marked individually with a cross of ashes on the forehead for Ash Wednesday, parishioners were already facing a different procedure for safety reasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to officials with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

"First, the priests will bless the ashes, sprinkling the ashes with holy water," officials said in a statement. "Then the celebrant will address those present, reciting only once the formulas found in the Roman Missal: 'Repent, and believe in the Gospel' or 'Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return'."

At that point, the protocol continues, the priest "cleanses his hands, puts on a face mask, and distributes ashes to those who come to him or, if appropriate, he goes to those who are standing in their places."

The priest will then take a pinch of ashes and sprinkle the ashes on top of each person's head.

Pope Francis has called on the Catholic faithful to consider fasting this year from what he called a media overload.

"What if we were to look people in the eye the way we look at our phones, 50 times a day, looking at them with the same attentiveness and intensity, how many things would change? How many things would we discover?" said Servite Father Ermes Ronchi in a statement to Vatican News.

WATCH from 2019: Some churches offer ashes to go