Parishioners felt the changes this Ash Wednesday, but the message remains the same

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This year’s Ash Wednesday is unlike any other.

For Christians, the day marks the start of Lent in the liturgical calendar.

Masked parishioners filed into San Jose Catholic Church for the noon mass.

While it was a steady stream of people, it’s way fewer than last year’s mass, which was one of the last big gatherings before COVID-19 forced the world to shut down.

The parish pastor, Father Remek Blaszkowski, said since then, there have been many changes.

“For us, as a parish community, we had to make big adjustments literally overnight,” he said.

TRENDING STORY: Stimulus check update: When can you expect to see the $1,400 direct payment?

These include roped-off pews, marks on the floor to encourage social distancing and postponing the distribution of the Blood of Christ.

Yet another change came directly from the Holy See on Wednesday. Instead of putting ashes on the forehead, ashes were sprinkled on people’s heads.

But the change doesn’t alter the message.

“It is a reminder for us that we long for more, we want more and, sometimes, this journey of life gets difficult. It’s a time of cleansing. It’s a time of an encounter. It’s time to regroup maybe refocus,” said Blaszkowski.

Parishioner Diane Foley is choosing to see the positive side of this tough year.

“I see kind of a strange blessing in that, you know, we’ve had so much more family time. The world has kind of slowed down. We’ve been able to let go of some things that maybe weren’t all that important,” she said.

San Jose Parish, like many area churches, had to get creative on how it evangelizes, using social media and technology to its advantage.

It’s a move that could stay even after the pandemic.

“We’ve invested into new technology, new cameras, new systems, new ways of allowing people to participate in the mass,” said Blaszkowski.

LOCAL NEWS: Hit-and-run caught on camera on Jacksonville’s Westside

While COVID-19 has changed how and where parishioners worship, it will never change why they believe.

For this year’s Lent, Mary Kight knows exactly what she’ll pray for.

“The health of all of us — that’s what I’m praying for,” said Kight.