Pastor Letter – Distribution of Ashes in Time of Pandemic – Emailed January 19, 2021

Dear Parishioners,

The beginning of Lent, 2021 and Ash Wednesday is just about one month away. Masses on Ash Wednesday February 17, 2021 will be 8:00am, 9:30am (LIVESTREAMED) and 7:00pm. This letter will best keep you aware of the changes to the ritual for the distribution of ashes during a pandemic.

Distribution of Ashes in Time of Pandemic

The Priest says the prayer for blessing the ashes. He sprinkles the ashes with holy water, without saying anything. Then he addresses all those present and only once says the formula as it appears in the Roman Missal, applying it to all in general:

“Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” or
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The Priest then cleanses his hands, puts on a face mask, and distributes the ashes to those who come to him or, if appropriate, he goes to those who are standing in their places.

Here is the difference during a pandemic:
The Priest takes the ashes and “sprinkles them on the head” of each one without saying anything. (Please note that physical contact is avoided by omitting marking the forehead with a cross, thus the “sprinkling”.)

This method of distributing ashes, by sprinkling on top of the head, is a common practice in other countries, but, is not well known in the United States.

Now, my concern is “cleanliness”, and if I sprinkle your heads with ashes, instead of marking your foreheads (which remains forbidden to do in 2021), then ASHES will be everywhere; on your clothes, into your eyes, onto the pews, and ground into the carpet. With three Masses that day, it will be impossible to clean the church after each Mass.

For your information, the ritual of receiving ashes has in its instruction that there is no requirement for the people of God to physically receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. It’s been a “tradition” for people to receive them and begin a season of repentance, but, it has never been obligatory.

At this time, those who choose to attend Mass and LIVESTREAM, I believe it is best to have you receive a “global call to repentance” without the actual “sprinkling” of ashes on your foreheads. In addition, I would leave bowls of ashes on tables near the altar for anyone after mass to sign themselves with the ashes on their foreheads.

Many blessings,
Father Jim

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