The Vatican has asked priests to take special precautions this year when distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, including sprinkling ashes on the top of people’s heads rather than using them to make a cross on people’s foreheads.

Ahead of the beginning of Lent, on Wednesday, 17 February, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has published a note detailing how Catholic priests are to distribute ashes this year.

After blessing the ashes and sprinkling them with holy water in silence, the priest addresses those present, reciting once the formula found in the Roman Missal: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

At that point, the priest “cleanses his hands, puts on a face mask, and distributes ashes to those who come to him or, if appropriate, he goes to those who are standing in their places. He then sprinkles the ashes on each person’s head “without saying anything.

The usual practice would be to repeat the words “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” to each person as the ashes are rubbed onto their forehead.

Sprinkling ashes on the top of people’s heads, rather than marking foreheads with ashes, is already the normal practice at the Vatican and in Italy.

As the health implications caused by Covid-19 continue to force changes to daily life, these changes are also reflected in the life of the Church.

ENDS