Drive-thru ashes: do Ash Wednesday without leaving your car

A Glenamaddy parish priest is facilitating busy parishioners on Ash Wednesday

Fr Paddy Mooney gives ashes to motorists outside Glenamaddy Church on Ash Wednesday. Video: Joe O'Shaughnessy

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What do you think of when you hear the expression, “drive-through service”? Burgers and fries? Tick. A car wash? Tick. Ashes? Hang on, did you say ashes? What’s all that about?

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent. One enterprising parish priest, Fr Paddy Mooney of St Patrick’s Church, Glenamaddy, Co Galway, has come up with an idea to facilitate his busy commuting parishioners. Fr Mooney will be up early tomorrow morning, offering a drive-through service at his church, administering ashes.

As the Glenamaddy parish newsletter notes this week, “The Ashes will also be available from 8am-9.30am outside of Glenamaddy church for people who cannot attend Mass who may be sick, find it difficult to walk, people on their way to work, or families on their way to school. If you are unable to attend Mass you can come here, receive your Ashes without having to leave your car.”

It’s a novel idea for Ireland, although even a rudimentary search of Google reveals that “Ashes to go” is commonplace in many Catholic churches in America; where, of course, the whole drive-through phenomena began.

The usual practice of receiving ashes comes via attending a Mass. If you had to be analytical about it, parishioners in the past might have thought you had to earn your ashes on your forehead by putting in the time at Mass. Now you can just turn up at the drive-through in Glenamaddy and get them anyway. It does beg the doctrinal question: are the ashes distributed via a drive-through less meaningful than ashes received after attending a Mass?

What’s next, by way of convenience and church services? Might we see a time in the future when parishioners don’t actually go inside the church at all, but drive-through its car park? If you can receive ashes without having to attend Mass, might there be a time when you can receive Communion without even having to enter the church? Will the car be the new confession box?

Who knows? The one surety is that tomorrow morning, if you are in the vicinity of Glenamaddy, Co Galway, you will be able to receive Ash Wednesday ashes without having to get out of your car.

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