How the pandemic is changing Ash Wednesday for Boston-area Catholics

How the pandemic is changing Ash Wednesday for Boston-area Catholics

BOSTON — Catholic priests must wear a face mask and not touch parishioners while distributing ashes to their respective congregations on Ash Wednesday, which is Feb. 17, according to guidance by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

And some parishes may decide not to distribute ashes at all this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Archdiocese said on its website.

For priests that do distribute ashes, the Archdiocese provides the following guidance:

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After blessing the ashes, “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,” the Archdiocese said on its website.

Priests may also distribute ashes with a cotton swab “or similar instrument,” the Archdiocese said.

“The swab should be used only once, and a new swab used for each recipient. The swab must be subsequently burned,” the Archdiocese said.

Alternatively, a priest may also give packets of ashes, being sold by many liturgical supply companies now, to people to bring home for themselves and their families, according to the Archdiocese.

“In any case, the minister must not touch the person receiving ashes. Both parties must be wearing masks. The words should be said once at the beginning for the whole congregation, and not individually,” the Archdiocese said. “Some parishes may in fact decide not to distribute ashes this year. In this case, the internal disposition of the person attending the Mass or service should be stressed.”

Catholic Easter falls on Sunday, April 4 this year.

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