On Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season for the Roman Catholics around the world. It lasts for 40 days before Easter, so that we may better appreciate the death and resurrection of Christ through repentance, prayer, fasting and self-denial. The Priest marks a cross on the forehead of each of the faithful on Ash Wednesday with the words “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. This is how we observed Ash Wednesday so far.
But this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship has issued a directive to follow, on January 12, 2021 for all Parishes around the world, regarding the distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday:
“After blessing the ashes and sprinkling them with holy water in silence, the priest addresses those present, reciting once the formula found in the Roman Missal: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
At that point, the Vatican directive continues, the priest
“cleanses his hands, puts on a face mask, and distributes ashes to those who come to him or, if appropriate, he goes to those who are standing in their places. He then sprinkles the ashes on each person’s head without saying anything.”
While this is a common practice in some countries, particularly in Europe, this form of distribution is not well known in the US. The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) Committee for Divine Worship, therefore, encourages the clergy to provide some explanation to the faithful to avoid unnecessary confusion.
The health situation caused by COVID-19 continues to force changes in daily life, which are also reflected in the Church’s worship. The main reason for the Vatican to give such a special directive is that by sprinkling the ashes on the head, the priest can avoid touching each person’s forehead and avoid being a means of spreading the disease. Hence, I ask all our Parishioners and visitors to understand the just reason behind this change this year and
participate in the liturgy of the Ash Wednesday on February 17th:
St. Peter Mass times at 8:00 am & 6:30 pm; St. Casimir Mass at 5:15 pm.
God bless you,
Fr. Arul Joseph V.