Parishes across the state of Texas have canceled Ash Wednesday Masses amid a winter storm that’s left over three million people without power and brought record low temperatures all week.
In most dioceses, the bishops have let the parishes decide what to do. Some have canceled Masses, some will livestream the Masses to bless the ashes and then distribute them on Sunday, while others are using a modified or unchanged schedule and encouraging people to use caution.
“With the weather emergency upon us, I’m asking that ashes be blessed tomorrow at Mass but distributed at Masses on this Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent. Stay warm tomorrow,” Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth tweeted Tuesday.
The Diocese of Dallas posted a similar statement that many parishes have canceled masses because of extreme weather and dangerous road conditions. It also made the point that Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, so “while it is an important observance for Catholics, safety is a great concern at this time.”
Fort Worth and Dallas are both northern dioceses in Texas. Similar decisions have been made in the northernmost diocese, Amarillo.
The forced changes to Ash Wednesday come at time when the start of Lent already looks different in Texas and worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of placing ashes on the forehead on individuals, the Vatican has instructed that they will be sprinkled on the crown of the head. Capacity limits and other COVID-19 precautions are also still in place.
Brian Bodiford, director of communications for the Diocese of San Angelo in the western part of the state, told Crux in an email that Bishop Michael Sis canceled two of his Ash Wednesday services, and instructed the pastors they have the authority to make a decision.
“Much of our diocese is effectively snowed in after record snowfall on Sunday. Many Texans are also without electricity at this time,” Bodiford said.
Across the state in the Diocese of Victoria, communications director Janet Jones said in an email that there is a mixture of parishes streaming, canceling and telling parishioners to heed warnings from authorities on the travel conditions.
In an email to Crux, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler in the northeast said “priests are going to go ahead with scheduled Masses as possible but people are urged to be cautious.”
There was a similar message from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
“There severe winter weather, road closures, and wide-scale power outages have affected parishes in a variety of ways. Cardinal [Daniel] DiNardo hopes that, wherever possible, pastors will celebrate at least one Ash Wednesday liturgy for those who are able to travel safely,” Jonah Dycus, secretariat director of communications, said in statement.
The Archdiocese of San Antonio and Diocese of Austin in the middle of the state have a mixed bag as well. All the way out West, the Diocese of El Paso is one of the few unscathed.
“There’s nothing to report here. We’re okay,” Fernie Ceniceros, told Crux in an email.