When churches reopened for Masses last June, a handful of parishes with access to large parking lots got creative and started holding car Masses for those especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Despite the cold weather and lots of snow this year, those Masses continue to take place. At Sts. Joseph and Francis Xavier Parish in Wilmette, parishioners can attend one of two car Masses held each Sunday morning in the parking lot of St. Joseph School. On Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, over 150 cars filled the lot for a 4:15 p.m. Mass. Participants tune into a local radio station to hear the Mass broadcast and ministers bring Communion to the people in the cars. Volunteers also sanitize the hands of each person in the car before they receive the Eucharist. On Ash Wednesday, ashes were distributed by individual cotton swabs. Just as with indoor Masses, there are regulars who come early to get their desired spots each week and others who wait in the back until their friends come so they can park next to them. At first the parish had been making do with an outdoor altar adjacent to the parking lot. In inclement weather, the parish moved the altar across the street and under the portico of St. Joseph Church. “It worked well enough, but when this was going on and on, we thought we have to figure out a way to do this and keep the ministers safe,” said Father Wayne Watts, pastor. When cold weather approached, parishioners at Sts. Joseph and Francis Xavier donated enough money in just one week to build a shed with an elevated altar that is enclosed to protect the celebrants and ministers from the elements. The parish is also planning an outdoor Lenten mission in the parking lot using the shed. “It’s all about building disciples and creating community. It’s amazing,” Watts said. “Before Mass, they’ll roll down their windows and chat. I often walk up and down the aisles and say hello to everybody as they are approaching.” He recalled when the parish first started the car Masses, people were crying in joy to receive the Eucharist after not being able to do so for months. “To me, that says that this is important,” Watts said. “It inspires witness, being able to receive and go forth and know that your church is here to care for you and help you and be there for you and accompany you. It’s really something.” The car Masses provide a sense of community for the parish, said Sister of Christian Charity Monica Cormier, who regularly attends with members of her community who live in Wilmette. “When they created this, it was an amazing experience of community, even from our cars,” Sister Monica said. “We would wave to our neighbors. We would give the sign of peace. It’s amazing how you can feel connected.” She praised the efforts of the volunteers and ministers who brave the elements to provide Mass for those in the cars. “It’s parish,” Sister Monica said. “It’s people caring for each other and continuing to try to be a faith community together. The church is not a building. It’s a people and this parish has proved that over and over.” There have also been unintended benefits that have come from the pandemic, said Sister of Christian Charity Juliana Miska. “I think another unexpected grace is that this happened just as we were merging the two parishes — St. Francis and St. Joseph — and it could have divided us but it really brought us together because we didn’t really know each other,” Sister Juliana said. “It just called forth the best in all of us.” Dana McKenna has been volunteering at the car Masses each week since they began. “It’s so great,” she said. “This is our favorite thing to do on the weekends.” McKenna dresses for the weather and says the cold doesn’t bother her. “It’s a really good spirit,” she said. “It’s really cute because at the sign of peace we ask everybody to honk their horns and the whole parking lot is a parade of music.” St. Joseph Parish in Libertyville also offers two car Masses on Sundays and St. Catherine of Laboure in Glenview broadcasts its weekend Masses on a radio station to cars in the parking lot and distributes Communion to those in cars following Masses. Some parishes are occasionally offering outdoor options. Queen of All Saints Basilica held a drive-thru Communion service on Christmas Day and two drive-thru services on Ash Wednesday. More than 200 cars came for ashes. “A lot of people do not want to come into church or they are finding it difficult to be inside,” said Father Simon Braganza, pastor. On Ash Wednesday, in addition to the drive-thru distribution of ashes, Queen of All Saints offered small packets of blessed ashes “to go” for people to bring to those who did not want to venture out, especially given the large snowfall the Chicago area received just two days earlier. The parish recently added a monthly drive-thru Communion service the last Sunday of each month at 8 a.m. “We decided to do that because a lot of people who received Communion at Christmas wanted to receive at least once a month,” Braganza said. It’s all about adjusting to the times. “I never thought in my entire priesthood that this would be part of the reality, but it is,” he said.