By Liam De Brún
Father Máirtín Ó Conaire was met by a sea of empty pews as he took to the altar this morning. Rather than drawing crosses on foreheads, he was talking to a webcam.
Ash Wednesday is one of the biggest days of the year in Christianity. Year in, year out thousands of Christians mark the beginning of Lent by having ash marked on their forehead. Ash is used as a reminder for Christians that they came from dust and will return to dust one day. After the year the world just had, it’s a fitting message. Don’t get ahead of yourself, stay grounded, and live a life of peace.
This year marks the first time the annual ceremony had to find a new format. Yet, the message remains as strong as ever.
Fr Ó Conaire, of the Aran Islands Parish, is adamant that while the service is different the meaning of the day remains the same.
“Today is the beginning of a journey, looking to the future, grasping for hope in some form.” he says.
Fr Ó Conaire is aware that hope is hard to come by in today’s world. He views the masses on Zoom as a success.
“I think in a sense it’s needed now more than ever. While not together in the church, our connection has never been stronger.” he says.
Mairéad Uí Fhlátharta watched the ceremony from her home in Inis Oírr on the family laptop. At 75 years of age and having attended Ash Wednesday every year since she was a child on an island where religion plays an essential role in the community, watching a mass online is a drastic change.
“Not getting the ashes is upsetting, we’re fortunate that we still get to watch our daily masses online. Ten years ago we would have been left in the dark.” she says.
Mairéad believes that the online Mass’s has helped her cope with the difficulties and loneliness surrounding 2021. Attending the daily Mass is a key part of her routine.
“Mass provides a great comfort. We all know Fr Mairtín, when he’s speaking you forget you’re online.” she says.
In an era where we see laptop screens more than people, an escape is always welcome.
Throughout his mass Fr Ó Conaire reminds those watching at home to look into their hearts. With vaccine rollouts underway, the people of Inis Oírr are hopeful that this will be their only Ash Wednesday online.
For health guidelines and updates, go to the HSE website
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