Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh has said that while Ash Wednesday 2021 will be mostly without ashes, families can still pray, fast and be generous this Lent.

The archbishop was speaking as the Church prepares to celebrate the Season of Lent in the context of Covid-19 restrictions.

Archbishop Martin said, “The season of Lent is a forty day penitential period leading up to Holy Week and Easter when Christians mark the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Catholics the beginning of  Lent is traditionally marked by a day of fasting and by the distribution of ashes on the foreheads of church-goers.  Believers are encouraged to make a commitment to prayer, charity and fasting or self-denial. Many Catholics make Lenten promises or resolutions to mark the importance of this holy season.

“This year, with the strong ‘Stay at Home’ message from public health authorities, north and south, it will not be possible for Catholics to gather in Church buildings to receive the ashes, which are normally applied to the forehead in the shape of the sign of the cross. The words used are Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”, or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.  At this time when gathering for public worship is suspended, parishes will continue to mark Ash Wednesday using online services over webcam and also by encouraging family prayer services in the home. The Northern Pastoral Network, for example, has prepared resources which are being made available to families (see armaghprays.com).  Instead of the usual ashes, families are being encouraged to keep the fast, to make their normal Lenten promises, and to consider making little crosses to wear using black ribbon or card.

“Even in parts of the world where there are less restrictions on gathering for worship, the Vatican has asked that ashes would not be applied to the forehead in the usual manner, but would be sprinkled on the top of people’s heads.

“Some parishes are making small envelopes of blessed ashes available for those who will be visiting their parish churches in the early days of Lent for individual prayer when out for their daily exercise. People will also be able to collect their Trócaire Box from parishes in the same way.”

Bishops will be promoting the #LivingLent initiative again this year on social media, encouraging the faithful to observe Lent at home. You can follow the daily suggestions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. See www.catholicbishops.ie for more.

ENDS