The distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday will be by sprinkling because of pandemic

Friday, Feb. 12, 2021
The distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday will be by sprinkling because of pandemic + Enlarge
This year, because of pandemic conditions, all parishes will distribute ashes by sprinkling them on the head of recipients. Pope Francis is shown receiving ashes in this manner in this 2020 file photo.

Archbishop Leonard Blair, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, issued a memorandum to all the bishops of the United States. In it he wrote, “While Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation and while there is no requirement for the clergy and faithful to receive the imposition of ashes, it is rightly observed as a celebration of high importance, and many will surely wish to participate even amid the current difficulties.”

Archbishop Blair then shared a message from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He wrote, “During this time of pandemic, the Holy See has modified the method of distributing the ashes, as outlined in the following note."

The note reads:

 “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.”

 Archbishop Blair notes that “these changes minimize the necessity of physical contact between minister and recipient and remove the need for the minister to speak while in close proximity to the recipient.  

“The distribution of ashes via sprinkling is a common practice in some countries in Europe and elsewhere but not in the United States. Therefore, the committee encouraged ministers to provide some explanation to the faithful, to avoid unnecessary confusion.  Let us remember, that the ashes are not mandatory, but are a traditional exterior sign of our interior conversion. This is the focus of our Lenten journey and our ongoing journey of faith.”

Lenten Practices during the Pandemic

The faithful are encouraged during Lent to attend daily Mass, receive Holy Communion, participate in penance services, and receive sacramental absolution; to take part in public and private exercises of piety, give generously to works of religion and charity, perform acts of kindness toward the sick, aged and the poor; to practice voluntary self-denial, especially regarding food, drink and worldly amusements; and to pray more fervently, particularly for the intentions of the Holy Father.

To afford the faithful opportunities to participate in Lenten prayer services, pastors are encouraged to have such prayer services at least twice a week, including the Way of the Cross on Fridays, Exposition and Benediction, Evening Prayer and evening Masses. A homily or instruction should be included.

HOLY WEEK (The Passion of Our Lord)

Palm Sunday

The Blessing and Distribution of Palms is a high point of the liturgical year for many people. In order to reduce people being in close proximity, the Third Form: The Simple Entrance should be used at all Masses (Roman Missal, Palm Sunday, 17 & 18).

A simple entrance rather than a procession should be used at all Masses. Palms may be passed out at the entrance of the church by ushers wearing gloves.


“Since Christ accomplished his work of human redemption and of the perfect glorification of God principally through his Paschal Mystery, in which by dying he has destroyed our death, and by rising restored our life, the sacred Paschal Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord shines forth as the high point of the entire liturgical year” (Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, #18).  Three major liturgical principles may be of help here:

• The Triduum may be viewed as a single liturgical action that occurs over a period of three days.

• The Triduum is not part of Lent, but in its entirety celebrates the Easter event.

• The entire focus of the Triduum is on the Triumph of the Cross and the Resurrection.


Chrism Mass (Blessing of the Oils and Consecration of the Chrism)

• Chrism Mass will be held at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in person and livestreaming will be available. Seating for the faithful will be limited and by registration.

The Lord’s Supper:

Institution of the Holy Eucharist and Washing of the Feet

• The Roman Missal directs that “After the Homily, where a pastoral reason suggests it, the Washing of Feet follows” (Roman Missal, Holy Thursday, 10). However, due to the current protocols and for pastoral reasons the washing of feet this year may be eliminated during the Triduum, unless the priest washing the feet and those whose feet are to be washed are agreeable to participate in this sacred gesture.

• At the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the procession with the Blessed Sacrament to the place of repose is to be planned in such a way that social distancing can be maintained throughout the procession and the hours of Adoration.


(Liturgy of the Word, Adoration of the Holy Cross, Universal Prayers and Holy Communion)

The Second Form (simple) of “The Showing of the Holy Cross” should be used.

The Adoration of the Holy Cross is to be done by a profound bow or genuflection only. Reverencing by the congregation is to be done by a profound bow or genuflection only. Kissing or touching of the cross should be avoided during the pandemic.

The following prayer will be added to the Universal Prayers (cf. Missale Romanum, page 314 n. 13):

Prayer XI: For special needs of the sick and dead affected by the coronavirus:

“Let us pray for our world, which has been so radically impacted by the coronavirus crisis; for those who contracted the disease and those who care for them; for medical personnel and researchers; for those who have suffered economically; and for a complete and speedy recovery from this crisis.”

Prayer in silence.

Then the priest says:

“Almighty God of all the living, you are our strength and our salvation. Hear and answer our prayers for all affected by this crisis. Open our hearts to the firm hope that this cross we bear may ultimately lead to the joy of the freedom from this scourge. Through Christ our Lord.”


(The Lord’s Resurrection – Lucernarium)

Blessing of the Fire

Observe health and safety protocols such as social distancing. Use simple rites for the Blessing of the Fire, procession of the Paschal Candle into the church and the passing of the light (refer to Roman Missal, Easter Vigil, 13). Small taper candles should be used and the congregation should take the candles home.

If there are no Baptisms, the water is to be blessed as described in the Roman Missal in a small vessel. After the Mass, the blessed water should be stored away from the reach of the faithful.

Baptismal Liturgy

RCIA and Easter Baptisms

Baptism by immersion is not permitted. The presider should take water from the font and pour it over the head of the Elect and into a separate vessel and not back into the font. When the time for the Baptism occurs, the presider should use water from the font and pour it over the head of the Elect into a separate vessel, in such manner that the water that touches the person’s head does not flow back into the font.

It is important that the water not be recycled in this way in order to preserve a stricter hygiene than would be necessary under normal circumstances. [Note: This directive applies to the celebration of Infant Baptisms as well.]


The priest does not lay his hands on the head of each person being confirmed, but with his hands outstretched over the entire group prays in silence. He uses a fresh cotton ball or swab to anoint each person confirmed. After the liturgy, the cotton balls should be collected and safely burned.

Funeral Masses

Funeral Mass may not be celebrated on Holy Thursday, Good Friday or Holy Saturday, nor on the Sundays of Lent. When pastoral reasons require that a funeral be celebrated on these days, only a Funeral Outside of Mass may be held.

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