Generally Speaking: How COVID-19 will affect Ash Wednesday

February 12, 2021 Theodore W. General
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On Feb. 17, several mainline Christian religions will commemorate Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. Congregants include Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Moravians, Presbyterians, Independent Catholics and some other smaller religious denominations. 

 It is the day worshipers traditionally attend church services during which a priest or minister places a smudge of ashes in the sign of the cross on their forehead and recites, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that is about to change. Ashes will still be distributed but in a widespread manner not common to American parishioners.  Overseas in many countries, and at the Vatican, the blessed ashes are sprinkled on the crown of the head.  

Monsignor Kieran Harrington, communications vicar for the Brooklyn Catholic Diocese and rector of Brooklyn’s St. Joseph Co-Cathedral, called to our attention an announcement to church pastors and administrators regarding the new procedures, which state, in part: “The priest says the prayer for blessing the ashes. He sprinkles the ashes with holy water.  Then prior to the distribution and only once to all  in general says, ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ The priest then cleanses his hands, puts on a face mask and starts distributing the ashes by sprinkling on the head of each one without saying anything.” 

With these changes, the diocese hopes to minimize the necessity of physical contact, including conversation between priest and recipient while they are in close contact to each other. Of course, churchgoers must wear masks and keep socially distant while cuing up for the ashes.

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 While out and about after the recent snowstorms, there were far too many sidewalk crossings without a shoveled path. Not only is it a nice courtesy, but corner building owners are required by law to clear a walkway so pedestrians can cross safety. It’s also in their best interests: You see how many slip and fall attorneys are running ads on TV!

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  To all the celebrants:  Happy Lunar New Year. It’s the Year of the Ox.

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