By CBSLA Staff

NORTH HOLLYWOOD (CBSLA) — Ash Wednesday looks and feels very different for Catholics across Southern California this year.

Rates of new COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations in California are down. But as thankful as many parishioners are for those developments this year, they are still not taking the chance of spreading the virus and have submitted to the changes necessary to keep Ash Wednesday safe.

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(credit: CBS)

At St. Borromeo Catholic Church in North Hollywood, parishioners stayed in their cars and listened to mass through their radios. Volunteers wore gloves and used disposable makeup sponges to administer ashes without physical contact.

Further east, the masked clergy of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Upland placed “ash and dash” kits in the vehicles of parishioners. The kits contained enough blessed ashes for 12 people.

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Making it to Ash Wednesday after the trials of the past year is a blessing, many said.

“We’re finding a way in the most tragic of times to be connected to God, to be connected to each other and our community, and that almost feels better. Feels stronger,” parishioner Stephen Estrada said.

Churches in California are allowed to hold in-person services again, but capacity is limited to 25%. So to accommodate a large influx of people for Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent, Father Jose Magana said they decided on a drive-in style mass.

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“We fit almost 200 cars. Some of the cars had five people, six people, from the same family unit, so we have a lot more people,” he said. “If there’s anything I learned during the pandemic, I have to be flexible and I have to be creative.”