Coronavirus Forces Changes To Distribution of Ashes For Ash Wednesday


LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The coronavirus pandemic will force a change in the distribution of ashes for Ash Wednesday at Roman Catholic churches today.

The Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a note describing the process needed to avoid close contact and avoid the spread of the virus.

The note calls for the priest to say the prayer for blessing the ashes and sprinkle the ashes with holy water, without saying anything. Then he will address 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 will then cleanse his hands, put on a face mask and distribute the ashes to those who come to him or, if appropriate, go to those who are standing in their places. The priest takes the ashes and sprinkles them on the head of each one without saying anything.

Customarily, the priest marks the forehead of each participant with black ashes in the shape of a cross and the priest tells individuals as the ashes are applied to their foreheads, “Turn from sin and live the Gospel.”

Ash Wednesday ushers in the 40-day season of Lent, when the faithful prepare for Easter by doing penance for sins and seeking spiritual renewal through prayer, discipline and good works. It gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of penance.

Catholics observe Ash Wednesday by fasting, abstaining from meat and repenting. Other Christian denominations make fasting optional, with the main focus being on repentance.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez will celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass at 12:10p.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. Due to the pandemic, there will be limited in-person attendance.

Gomez will also deliver his Lenten message during the Mass, which will be livestreamed on the cathedral's Facebook page, facebook.com/olacathedral and website, lacathedral.org/live/ and the Facebook page of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, facebook.com/lacatholics.