BROOKLYN - For Christians around the world, Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and reflection leading up to Easter Sunday.
Ash Wednesday looked a bit different this year for Laurel Frazier, as she attended mass at St. James Cathedral in downtown Brooklyn.
She did not receive the traditional ash on her forehead. That break from tradition was a result of the pandemic, but Frazier said, given the circumstances, she understands.
“I’m OK with it," Frazier said, "because it’s still being able to get the blessed sacrament of the ashes.”
As a safety precaution, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who heads the Diocese of Brooklyn, said the Vatican advised Catholic churches to avoid direct contact with parishioners. That meant going back to an ancient tradition.
“The distribution of ashes by sprinkling on the head is actually more ancient than what we had been doing with making the sign of the cross on the forehead,” Bishop DiMarzio said.
He admited he strongly supported the change.
"It keeps me safe," the Bishop said, "and also the other people because if I had to touch one to the other, I’d have to sterilize hands after each one, so it would be very difficult."
Isabel Navarro has been coming to St. James Cathedral for 40 years. While she misses being able to proudly display ashes on her forehead in public, she is comfortable with the changes.
“I think it’s still great,” Navarro said. "You show it inside in your heart, that you know you received your ashes to begin your season."
For Laurel Frazier, this is also a season of uncertainty. She is not working at the moment because of the pandemic, but she has a positive outlook.
“I do corporate travel," Frazier said. “So it’s going to be a little while, but I fortunately still have my job, but just on furlough ’til it starts up again.”
She told NY1 she looks forward to the day when the pandemic eases so she can return to her job, and ashes can once again be placed on her forehead on Ash Wednesday.
During an appearance on "Mornings On 1" Wednesday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan remarked on how the pandemic has affected the faith of New Yorkers.
"They'll come up and say, ‘My God, Cardinal Dolan, this has been going on a year. What's God trying to tell us? When is this going to let up?’ I will often find instead of complaining that they'll say, ‘You know what, this has been a tough time, but my faith has been strengthened,’ or, ‘this has been a difficult time, but I find myself praying even a little more or turning to the bible,’” Dolan said.
Dolan recently had to quarantine for several days after coming into contact with a fellow priest who tested positive for COVID-19.
But he says he did not show any symptoms and is feeling fine.