Ash Wednesday Plans Forced to Change Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday service in 2021 looked much different from other years all across the world. The coronavirus pandemic has left a negative impact on the way we follow traditions.

In January, Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of Sacraments asked priests to be cautious for safety concerns when distributing ash to parishioners.

The congregation requested the priests to bless the ash made from palm fronds on January 12. It was the same used in the Palm Sunday service in 2020. They asked the priests to sprinkle holy water, and then the priest went on to reciting the Roman Missal.

Archbishop Arthur Roche and Cardinal Robert Sarah guided the process. According to their instructions, the priest had to cleanse their hands, wear a face mask, and then distribute ash to people coming to him. When needed to reach out, the priest also went to the people standing in their respective places to hand over the ash. The priest silently took the ash to them and sprinkled the people on their heads.

How is Ash Wednesday different during other years?

When the world was not skeptical about such a disease spread, a priest would come and place the ash on the people’s forehead. He would draw a cross on them, as per the tradition goes.

President Biden has been a Catholic all this life and annually accepts ash on the forehead. The essence of using ash on this day symbolizes the death of Lord Jesus Christ and the repentance of the people who believe on this day.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Lenten period that lasts for 40 days before Easter. It is believed that Lord Jesus spent 40 days fasting in a desert, and that lasted till Easter Sunday.

Ash Wednesday rituals across the world

Not receiving the ash on the forehead was not the only change for congregants across Catholic churches this year. The churches in the Philippines saw people coming in with masks on their faces and shields for further protection.

In Ireland, more than 78% of their population are Catholics. Many churches offered a do-it-yourself (DIY) and takeaway ash facility. People just had to come and collect it and then use it by themselves at home. The packages included instructions to follow the DIY method along with a prayer.

The United States is the most-hit by the coronavirus, as 511,302 have lost their lives from this country. America witnessed an in-person service with a limited headcount in places like New York. They followed guidelines like having 50% capacity only and maintaining social distancing.

Some areas held outdoor services even with the deadly Arctic chill completely freezing some parts of the US. Some places offered drive-thru “fast” ash collection and curbside pickups.

There are also churches that used a hybrid system over the last few months. It included both online services and in-person worship.

Rituals live-streamed from New York

On Ash Wednesday, at 12 pm ET, there was a mass held at the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. They distributed ash and live-streamed the entire event.  There were also services held over the Zoom videoconferencing app.

St. Thomas Church in Southington, Connecticut, and the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia had a more creative approach to Ash Wednesday rituals. They used Q-tips for applying ash.

St. Mark’s Episcopal, Washington DC, hosted an art project as people shared words for the banner. It was created with dust and then washed away. The congregants will recreate the same throughout 40 days of Lent.

Pennellville United Methodist, New York, shared a post on Facebook talking about their symbolic ash-making process. They burned confessions in a firepit and broadcasted them on the radio.

Pastor Steve Rheingans spoke to KAAL, ABC, that their mission will go on and God’s love will go on irrespective of a pandemic. He ended by saying that the mission must continue even if people find different ways to do it.


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