Christians returned to church in newly reinvigorated numbers for Ash Wednesday, shortly after Gov. Ned Lamont relaxed state pandemic measures to allow increased capacity at houses of worship.
“It’s an important day for us as Catholics because it reminds us of God’s mercy,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Romans, pastor of St. Bridget of Sweden in Cheshire.
Around 250 people attended two morning Masses at the church Feb. 17 and the afternoon worship was filled to capacity at 200 people, which was double the number allowed under the previous regulations which capped attendance at the lower of 25 percent or 100 people. The church also opened up for two “flow” periods between Masses to allow people to receive ashes and pray on their own without attending a larger worship.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and serves as a way for Catholics to publicly symbolize their faith, Romans said. The holiday reinforces one’s need for God and to seek mercy through penance and sacrifice.
To limit physical contact and comply with social distancing rules, Romans received permission from the Hartford Archdiocese to apply ash to worshippers with a cotton swab, rather than painting them on with his thumb as usual. Other local churches, such as Kensington Congregational Church, held drive through “Ashes-To-Go” in the parking lots of their churches.
Youth Minister Regis O’Neill said the church is in constant communication with the Archdiocese to ensure that the proper health recommendations are followed for the sacraments.
“It’s one of those things where it’s a small change but if that’s what we need to do to keep our parish safe, then it's a no-brainer that we were going to do that,” he said.
Walking out of St. Bridget with his two children, Cheshire resident Jonathan Braca said that seeing the church continue with its sacraments and rites gives the congregation hope and comfort.
“It’s all about hope and normalcy … faith is something we all have in different ways,” he said, adding that seeing the church community together again shows that “we’re all in it together.”