Anne-Marie Welsh

Grace and Mercy is the name of the new Lenten microsite created by the
Office of Faith Formation of the Diocese of Erie.   Graphic/Rich Papalia

ERIE — As we approach Lent — yet another important liturgical season still in the midst of pandemic — the Faith Formation Office of the Diocese of Erie is ready.
          This month will mark a full year since members of the team have been able to travel to parishes in the diocese.
          “In the beginning, we weren’t sure what the needs would be or how we would meet them,” says Deacon Steve Washek, executive director of Faith Formation. “The immediate thought was that we needed to help people stay connected to each other and to their parishes in this time of pandemic.”
          A year later, Deacon Steve says, the situation has evolved.
          “It’s similar but deeper. We know people are more and more affected by isolation.” Add to that the fact that it’s winter, a time often associated with cabin fever and what Deacon Steve refers to as “the blahs.” 
         “The CDC calls it COVID fatigue,” he says. “What we know is, it’s real. Parish leaders, parishioners and even some of our priests have expressed it.”
          According to Deacon Steve, when the pandemic first hit, social media use went through the roof.
          “But even that has become tiresome," he observes, "particularly for Generation Z, according to research. So we are offering resources to help inspire engagement in Lent.”
          Mindful of the prevalence of fatigue, the team is keeping things simple.
          Beginning with the familiar and traditional pillars of Lent: fasting, prayer and almsgiving, the Faith Formation team has once again collaborated with the Communications Office to develop a microsite. Grace and Mercy: A faith-filled walk through Lent is now available at The site includes a week-by-week listing of resources and suggestions based on the themes of hunger, Eucharist, gratitude, God’s love, reconciliation and simplicity. It also lists Pope Francis’ prayer intentions for the entire year, links to various ways of praying the Stations of the Cross and a wish list for Catholic Charities agencies found throughout the 13 counties of the diocese.
          The team expects the site will be regularly updated, and closer to Holy Week, members will include a page with a fresh take on an offering they first introduced in 2020,  #HolyWeekAtHome. Similar to the Simply Celebrating site at Christmas, the goal is to provide options people can use to bring the spiritual riches of the season into their homes.
          Next on the agenda for the Faith Formation team is an effort to prepare Catholics for a return to Mass, an initiative that will lay the groundwork for what will ideally happen no later than next fall.
          “Knowing that is on the horizon, the theme of mercy and grace at Lent is a good one,” Deacon Steve says. “We need to have mercy and grace with each other. The challenges of the pandemic call us to ask how we can be a little more like Jesus. We need to remember, too, that each of us is responsible for how we’re getting through this time. We may think our pastors or parishes could be doing more. The question we can ask ourselves in that situation is, “How have I reached out to my parish? What might I be able to offer?”

 Ash Wednesday distribution of ashes in the Diocese of Erie

The distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, will be handled a little differently in 2021. Most strikingly, it will happen in silence this year. After the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water, he will offer the usual statement from the Roman Missal a single time, applying it to all present. He will choose either, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Ashes will then be distributed in silence.

Because it is not possible to sanitize thumbs between each person, Bishop Persico is asking priests to use the practice common in many parts of the world, sprinkling ash on the crown of the head, rather than marking foreheads with the sign of the cross. This avoids any physical contact.       

Lenten practices

The Diocese of Erie offers the following information regarding observation of Lent in 2021:

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021, and concludes when the Paschal Triduum of the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord at the start of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, April 1, 2021.

  • Traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, as well as other forms of self-denial, are recommended most warmly by the church. Daily Mass is particularly encouraged.

  • Ash Wednesday, all Fridays in Lent except March 19 and Good Friday are days of abstinence from eating meat for those 14 years of age and older. Because the Solemnity of St. Joseph (March 19) falls on a Friday of Lent, and solemnities are never days of penance, the faithful are not obliged to abstain from meat on that day.

  • Ash Wednesday and Good Friday also are days of fasting for those ages 18 to 58 inclusive. On these days, those bound by the law of fasting may take one full meal. Two smaller meals, sufficient to maintain strength according to one’s needs, also are permitted. Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids including milk and fruit juices are allowed. When health or work is seriously affected, the law does not oblige.

If the COVID situation requires modifications to these practices, they will be communicated as they develop.