The Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome has released an instruction to all dioceses around the world. This instruction describes the new safety procedures that clergy are to follow for the distribution of ashes at the beginning of Lent on February 17 at all Masses and prayer services.
This change in the year 2021 is necessitated due to the ongoing health situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. We have all felt the impact of this pandemic that continues to force changes in many aspects of our daily lives. That reality also includes changes in our liturgies and rituals in our Roman Catholic Church.
For centuries up until the present time, the practice of our Catholic Church was to have the priest bless the ashes and sprinkle them with holy water. Afterwards, the priest and or deacon recited to each person individually and in line, 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”. Then, the usual form of signing a cross on a person’s forehead took place.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, please note that there will be a change in the manner in which ashes will be distributed to each parishioner on Feb. 17th. For safety reasons, Clergy will cleanse theirs hands and put on their face masks. The usual formula found in the Roman Missal will only be said once prior to the general distribution of ashes. Then parishioners will line-up in the center aisle and ashes will be sprinkled on each person’s head by the priest or deacon “without saying anything”.
The effect of this new sacramental procedure remains exactly the same. When we begin the holy season of Lent in preparation for Easter, we should remember the significance of the ashes that we are receiving. That means that we mourn and do penance for our sins. We are reminded to convert our hearts to the Lord, who suffered, died, and rose for our salvation. We renew the promises made at our own baptisms, when we died to an old life and rose to a new life with Christ. Finally, mindful that the kingdom of this existing world passes away, we strive to live the kingdom of God now and look forward to its fulfillment in heaven.