Christians all over the world mark the start of Lent with the tradition of receiving blessed ashes smudged to the forehead on Ash Wednesday, but it has been replaced with the ashes being sprinkled on a devotee’s head because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At a local church in the UK, the clergy of Chichester Cathedral sprinkled ashes on the head of the faithful during its Ash Wednesday service on February 17. Only 40 people were allowed to attend the service who sat far apart and wore face masks to comply with the government’s health protocols, reports Premier Christian News.
“Chichester Cathedral remains open and we have made a number of changes to ensure our community can visit us safely at this difficult time – whether that be for prayer, reflection or for services,” said the Dean of Chichester Cathedral, the Very Reverend Stephen Waine.
Lent is a somber time in which we are invited to pray about our mortality — the fact that, as fallen creatures, we are dust and to dust we shall return. —Father Nicholas Colalella, parochial vicar, St. Luke Parish in Whitestone, NY
“Although the numbers who can join us in person are restricted, we welcome hundreds of more people online through live-streamed services,” he added.
Lent is an important season for Christians and the pandemic has compelled the Church to make changes in its services since Easter last year to help curb the spread of the deadly virus.
In Dublin, Ireland, Christians were given packets of blessed ashes so they could impose the ashes on their family members. The nation remains in lockdown and Covid-19 restrictions prevent churches to be open to the public.
Another tweak the Church suggested was using cotton swabs to apply the ashes on the forehead. “Each of the faithful who wants to receive the imposition of ashes approaches the minister. The minister, with the aid of a cotton ball dipped into the vessel of the blessed ashes, traces the cross on the forehead of the faithful. The minister uses a different cotton ball for each of the faithful,” said Bishop Victor Bendico, chairperson of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Liturgy.
Since worship services have transitioned online, an app is also available which provides filters to help Christians display virtual Ash Wednesday cross on social media. The “AshTag” is a filter that puts a black cross onto users’ foreheads in photos. The Church of England has a similar filter on Instagram called “Ashes at Home,” according to the National Catholic Reporter.
The spreading of ashes on a person’s body is associated with grief or prayer in the Bible, according to The Tablet. Several Biblical stories showed characters with ashes on their body when they are in despair or about to commune with God. For example, the messenger who told David that Saul and Jonathan have died, was described as “with his clothes torn and dirt on his head” (2 Samuel 1:2).
“The sprinkling of ashes on the head is a Lenten practice that grew in popularity throughout the entire Church by the end of the 11th century. Yet, such a practice was common in local churches even before this time,” explained Father Nicholas Colalella, parochial vicar for St. Luke Parish in Whitestone, NY.
Referencing to Genesis, Colalella added that, “Lent is a somber time in which we are invited to pray about our mortality — the fact that, as fallen creatures, we are dust and to dust we shall return.”