Catholics will receive sprinkling of ashes

Worshippers wearing protective masks receive ashes during Ash Wednesday Mass at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Manila, Philippines, Feb. 26, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each Ash Wednesday, we hear the words: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” (CNS photo/Eloisa Lopez, Reuters)

This year, Catholics in the Archdiocese of Louisville won’t be able to take their annual #Ashtag selfies on Ash Wednesday — celebrated this year on Feb. 17.

The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments have instructed parishes to alter how ashes are administered on Ash Wednesday — which marks the beginning of Lent — amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Priests and ministers will distribute ashes by sprinkling them on top of the head instead of smudging a cross on the forehead, said Dr. Karen Shadle, director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

At the appropriate time in the liturgy, the priest will bless the ashes and then, aloud to the whole assembly, say the words: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” Shadle noted. This will be said only once and not individually to each person.

Ashes will then be distributed to the faithful in the form of sprinkling atop the head.

“The minister and individual wear masks and there will be no exchange of words to minimize speaking and contact,” Shadle said.

Glass cups containing ashes are seen on an altar between Ash Wednesday services at St. Ignatius Martyr Church in Long Beach, N.Y., in 2019. This year Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent, is Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

While most Americans are more familiar with the placing of ashes on the forehead in the shape of the cross, “the sprinkling of ashes is very common in the Catholic cultures around the world,” including at the Vatican and in Italy, Shadle said.

“People will miss it this year. It’s a wonderful thing to have a visible reminder of our faith. It’s the one time of the year you know who is Catholic because they are physically marked. That will be missing this year,” she said.

Shadle noted that the Catholic Church considers the blessed ashes to be a “sacramental” — a tangible sign that inspires reverence as we enter the holy and penitential season of Lent” and therefore is considered optional.

Individuals at the liturgy may choose not to come forward at the time of the sprinkling of the ashes. And, those watching from home may commit themselves to some other form of penitential practice they choose during Lent.

The sprinkling of ashes is not meant to be a permanent change in the ritual of the Mass, but rather an adaption to the current crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

Individuals are encouraged to check liturgy times for Ash Wednesday with individual parishes.

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