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Sacred Heart celebrates Ash Wednesday with services adapted for COVID-19

SALISBURY — The room went silent when Father John Eckert of Sacred Heart Catholic Church blessed the ashes for the school on Wednesday.

For Ash Wednesday, students came up to receive ashes before taking bowls to classrooms where their classmates could take part as well. In a normal year, Catholics would receive the sign of the cross marked on their forehead with ashes, but ashes were sprinkled on heads this year as a low-contact adaption.

Sacred Heart Catholic School Principal Tyler Kulp said the Charlotte Diocese suggested the adaptation of Ash Wednesday as a COVID-19 precaution.

When the cups of ashes arrived at classrooms, teachers offered them to students. The school was quiet except for a few whispers while the ashes made their journey.

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is a significant day for Christians worldwide and marks the solemn period of observance. The day is busy for Catholic churches. Eckert offered five services on Wednesday, including two liturgies of the word and three masses.

“We don’t want to turn anyone away,” Kulp said. “Ash Wednesday is a big day for a lot of Catholics, maybe some fallen-away Catholics who have come back to the church and maybe want to start their Lent and really get back in touch with Jesus.”

The brief service at the beginning of the school day was live-streamed from the school’s cafeteria to the classrooms, with the students shuttling spaced out in front of Eckert while he spoke. Everyone was wearing masks. The cafeteria has been used as a classroom when the school needed the space to keep students socially distanced.

Eckert spoke to the students about things that have fallen away that are important to them, but they get by without. In classic North Carolina fashion, he used last year’s canceled March Madness as an example.

“We’re still here,” Eckert said. “Now, it reminds of us that fact that, hey, sometimes the things that are really big and important to us may go by the wayside.”

Eckert said this is a time to refocus.

“It gives us a chance to reflect on the word of God, to begin this period of penance,” Eckert said.

He said the church is nearing one year of dealing with the pandemic. It has become accustomed to holding services with other safety precautions.

Eckert said the church has to adapt to be as accessible as possible to people during the pandemic while taking appropriate safety precautions.

Sacred Heart teacher Callie Michaels said school is in an unusual time in dealing with the pandemic. Michaels said she is happy there was a time to gather, even virtually.

“It’s definitely a combination of trying to meet families and students where they’re at,” Michaels said. “It’s challenging for everybody.”

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