Ash Wednesday services modified for social distancing in LA county


Vincent Medina

Volunteer at Saint John of God Church, Ed Santos, distributed ashes to the church’s congregation on Ash Wednesday. The church held an indoor mass on Feb. 17, 2021.

Vincent Medina, Community Editor

Catholic churches modified Ash Wednesday services in LA county for social distancing. Members of the congregation received their ashes in small containers to minimize contact with others.

Each house of worship held a unique service for the Feb. 17 event. As some churches took advantage of the lifting on indoor services, others chose only to interact with members of their congregation to distribute their ashes.

Saint Dominic Savio Church in Bellflower held a drive-through service during the day. As worshipers lined up in their cars, they received the link to a video that described Lent’s significance and the ashes’ symbolic meaning.

A volunteer of Saint Domonic Savio Church gives a member of the congregation ashes. The church held an outdoor Ash Wednesday service on Feb. 17, 2021. (Vincent Medina)

“In Jewish culture, a sign of repentance was to dress down by sprinkling ashes on their head,” explained Pastor Mike Gergen. “It was carried on by the Catholic Church during the season of Lent.”

He explained that Lent is the 46-day preparation for Easter. During this time, Catholics give up one habit that has held them back.

Pastor Gergen plans to limit his time on social media to one day a week.

“You can get hooked on TV and the computer. You need to disconnect yourself,” the Pastor said.

The church held the drive-through in their parking lot, and volunteers passed out the ashes in one-ounce containers, so people were less likely to spill the ashes on their clothes.

Adrian Delgado received his ashes at Saint Dominic Savio Church on Ash Wednesday.

Delgado said, “It was essential to receive my ashes today for tradition and my family. I think Savio did a great job with distributing ashes. Everyone seems to be keeping a safe distance and taking safety measures seriously.”

Delgado and his family have chosen to give up red meat during Lent.

Maria Cardenas received her ashes at Saint Domonic Savio Church on Ash Wednesday. The church held a drive-through ash distribution on Feb. 17, 2021.
Maria Cardenas received her ashes at Saint Domonic Savio Church on Ash Wednesday. The church held a drive-through ash distribution on Feb. 17, 2021. Photo credit: Vincent Medina

In Norwalk, Saint John of God Church chose to observe Ash Wednesday with indoor morning service.

While worshipers kept a social distance indoors and wore masks, Pastor Raymond Decipeda chose not to wear a mask while giving his sermon.

Marsha Gonzalez, the wife of Decan Frank Gonzalez at the church, feels that their setup is safe for indoor services.

“We have required temperature checks and hand sanitizer at the entrance and along the aisles,” Gonzalez said. “I expressed concern of holding indoor services, but after hearing the father’s plan, I think they are doing it safely.”

“Our parishioners feel comfortable. If they didn’t, I don’t think they would be here.”

She also feels that Pastor Decipeda is a safe distance away from everyone not to wear a mask.

Volunteers and commissioners distributed ashes outdoors after the service in small pouches, along with a schedule of their services.

The church holds mass Monday through Saturday at 7:30 am and 5 pm. Pastor Decipeda stated that the services take place indoors unless more than 125 people attend.

“Of course, I would prefer for the pastor to wear a mask,” said Mark Jimenez, who received his ashes from Saint John of God Church. “I choose to get my ashes today to honor the ritual as I have for years.”