Catholics to practice safer Ash Wednesday ceremonies next week

  • The Archdiocese of Chicago is recommending priests do Ash Wednesday differently this year, by either making the cross using a cotton ball or swab, or sprinkling the ashes atop the heads of the faithful.

    The Archdiocese of Chicago is recommending priests do Ash Wednesday differently this year, by either making the cross using a cotton ball or swab, or sprinkling the ashes atop the heads of the faithful. Courtesy of Archdiocese of Chicago

 
 
Updated 2/12/2021 6:07 PM

With Ash Wednesday set to start the Lenten season next week, COVID-19 is on the minds of Catholic Church officials.

The Archdiocese of Chicago on Friday announced two methods for Catholic leaders to more safely conduct Ash Wednesday ceremonies. And some suburban churches have already announced how they will handle distribution.

 

Usually, priests use a finger to apply ashes in the shape of a cross to the foreheads of the faithful while saying, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."

To limit the likelihood of the spread of COVID-19, church officials said in a news release Friday that they are instructing priests to remain silent during the ceremony and not make direct contact with parishioners.

The Rev. Marek Smolka of Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago outlined two new distribution methods in a video published to the archdiocese's YouTube page.

Both options require priests and parishioners to wear masks and practice social distancing and other safety protocols.

The first option is for priests to sprinkle ashes silently over the heads of the faithful.

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"This is the practice used traditionally at the Vatican and in many European countries," Smolka said.

Our Lady of the Wayside Parish in Arlington Heights will use that method, according to the website.

The second option is for priests to apply crosses to people's foreheads by using a cotton ball or cotton swab. Using this method generates more waste because the cotton product is thrown out after each use.

Some suburban churches are offering still other methods.

St. Raymond de Penafort Catholic Church in Mount Prospect will offer small spoonfuls of ashes to parishioners to apply to their own foreheads, according to a video on the church website.

"The pandemic may have changed many things in our daily lives, but what hasn't changed is the meaning of Lent," Smolka said in the video. "It remains a time of penance, sacrifice and good works and helps us prepare for the promise of Easter and the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ."

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