CORK priests are preparing for an Ash Wednesday never seen before with services allowing parishioners to collect ashes and carry out the sacred tradition at home.
Thousands of envelopes have been delivered to churches across Cork city and county so that families can bless their loved ones at home.
Ashes will be blessed as normal before being left for collection in churches across the city and county. Distributed by Bishop Fintan Gavin, the packaged ashes will be placed along altar rails and tables for those stopping by to pray.
A special prayer will be printed on each envelope as a keepsake for those still celebrating the holy day.
Parish priest of Enniskeane in West Cork, Fr Tom Hayes is among those rolling out the initiative.
He described the importance of Ash Wednesday to his parishioners.
"We want to make sure they still have Ash Wednesday while respecting the restrictions and the importance of keeping people safe. Ash Wednesday is one of those calendar days that many people still want to mark.
"While not everybody does lent in the same way they traditionally did, this is a tangible expression of our faith. We are literally putting our hands into the ashes so there is a tactile dimension as well as a prayerful one."
He is encouraging parishioners to bring ashes home to loved ones unable to travel.
"One of the nice things about it is there are no conditions attached to who can receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. It's open to anybody of any age. We see older people coming with their small grandchildren asking us if we can bless them. Many who are physically challenged still want to make this a special day."
According to Fr Hayes, preparing for Ash Wednesday has been logistically difficult.
"It was challenging to get envelopes in bulk as almost nobody is writing letters anymore resulting in reduced demand.'
He urged people to respect public health guidelines when collecting their ashes.
"People are being asked to avoid congregating. There is no need for people to rush and come together. We also ask that people respect the distance to their churches."