Ash Wednesday drive-thru at Galway church 'very dignified'
A unique drive-thru Ash Wednesday service at an Irish church has been described as "beautiful and overwhelmingly respectful".
St Patrick's Church in Glenamaddy, County Galway, offered people the traditional blessing from the comfort of their cars on Wednesday morning.
Hundreds availed of the service over an hour and a half.
Parish secretary Breda Keaveney said the unique event was "very peaceful and so dignified".
"The weather stayed dry, the sun was shining down on us and the mood was overwhelmingly respectful - it was a beautiful event," said Ms Keaveney.
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, a season of reflection and preparation before Easter.
Catholics traditionally attend a Mass at which their foreheads are marked with ash in the shape of a cross.
The Galway church's modern approach was designed to appeal to those who do not have time to attend Mass.
St Patrick's conveniently has a lane that leads right up to its front door.
Locals drove to the door, received their ashes and drove off on their way to work, school or the shops.
"We had people with hospital appointments, people going to work, parents, farmers, school children, bus loads of people," said Ms Keaveney.
"We just couldn't have anticipated how popular it would be - thankfully there were four of us on hand because we had hundreds to get through, but everyone was very patient.
"The response was so positive, everyone was very complimentary and encouraging. At the end of the day, we're in changing times and you have to move with them and not be judgemental.
"We're lucky that we have a very lively, youthful parish who are open to new ideas."
The idea, which was first reported last week, was agreed by the church's pastoral council and parish priest Fr Paddy Mooney.
"We looked at the situation on the ground. People and families are on the move all the time," he told the Irish Catholic.
"It's about meeting people where they are."
The church also set up a Lenten petition box in its grounds that allows people to submit prayer requests during Lent without having to leave their car.
"We're just putting it in front of people to help them think of Lent, as a reminder of it," said the priest.
By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ's sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days.
The period of reflection is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities.