BOONE – Spirits abounded on Feb. 17, as parishioners made their way to St. Francis of the Hill Country Catholic Church in Boone to participate in a modified Ash Wednesday Mass.

Each year, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day season of repentance, fasting, reflection and celebration that is representative of Jesus’ time of temptation in the desert. The ashes of this day are said to represent two key themes: death and repentance.

“It is basically representing ‘from the ash you’ve been created and to the ash you shall return.’ Or, ‘from dust you came, from dust you shall return’,” said Father Brendan Buckler, pastor of the St. Francis of the Hills Church in Boone. “It’s kind of a reminder of the eternal things in our end, so we can focus on living well now.”

In a typical year, churchgoers will receive the blessed ashes by having them traced in the shape of a cross on their forehead. According to Buckler, this is meant to strengthen them through the sign of the cross as they enter into Lent.

This year, however, in order to minimize the risk of COVID-19, the Vatican issued instructions not to make contact with parishioner’s foreheads. Other changes included saying the traditional phrase of “remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” to the congregation as a whole, instead to each individual as they receive their ashes and receiving their communion hest in hand, as opposed to having it placed in their mouth by the pastor. Though this year’s changes were brought on by COVID-19, the sprinkling of the ashes is not unheard of within certain factions of the Catholic faith.

“There are 33 Eastern rites in the church, we’re the Roman right, then there’s the Byzantine rite, maronite right, etc.,” said Buckler. Within those rights, I believe there is some variation on how the ashes are applied and there is some, looking back in the rubrics and things, some sprinkling on the top of the head back in the Middle Ages in some locations, so it’s not a completely foreign thing.”

Despite the slight modifications, members turned out to experience the holy occasion, which follows a year of modified services across the faith due to COVID-19.

“I was pleased to see so many people come out,” said Buckler. “They were not able to do that last year and I think people were kind of ready to really re-engage with faith and with God and be able to have those opportunities to come to Him.”

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