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Ash Wednesday

Revised protocols and best practices regarding Ash Wednesday

January 14, 2021

Based on materials received from the Holy See and the USCCB this week, and the discussion at the Presbyteral Council meeting on January 14, we want to draw your attention to the following:

The Holy See has issued the following with regard to Ash Wednesday.

Prot. N. 17/21
Note on Ash Wednesday
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. The Priest takes the ashes and sprinkles them on the head of each one without saying anything.

From the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 12 January 2021.

Robert Card. Sarah, Prefect
+Arthur Roche, Archbishop Secretary

So, the sprinkling of ashes on the top of the head, without any physical contact, is the normal way.

If there is a reason why a pastor believes that this would not be practical or accepted in his parish, he may impose ashes with a cotton swab or some similar instrument.  The swab should be used only once, and a new swab used for each recipient. The swab must be subsequently burned.

He may also give packets of ashes, being sold by many liturgical supply companies now, to people to bring home for themselves and their families.

In any case, the minister must not touch the person receiving ashes. Both parties must be wearing masks.  The words should be said once at the beginning for the whole congregation, and not individually. Some parishes may in fact decide not to distribute ashes this year. In this case, the internal disposition of the person attending the Mass or service should be stressed.

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