Distribution of Ashes Will Look, Sound Different This Year
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
February 11, 2021
DIOCESE—For safety’s sake, Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, this year will look and even sound a bit different. But the public witness and meaning of entering into the holy penitential season of Lent remains the same.
In an effort to continue safety protocols to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in Catholic faith communities, a notice was issued in January by Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The instruction was for how priests can safely distribute ashes in a time of pandemic. 
Cardinal Sarah’s guidance was issued to all priests and parishes in the Diocese of Rockford through the director of the Office of Divine Worship, Father Jonathan Bakkelund.
Receiving ashes will sound different because the priest will speak only once. 
This year the priest will say the prayer for the blessing of the ashes. He will sprinkle the ashes with holy water without saying anything. 
Then the priest will say over all the people just once, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Ash Wednesday will look different because the ashes won’t go on your forehead. The priest will cleanse his hands and with his face mask on, will distribute ashes to those who come to him by silently sprinkling the ashes on the heads of the individuals instead of marking each forehead.
Even though the faithful may be unfamiliar with this method, Father Bakkelund says “Ashes are a sign of humility and repentance throughout Sacred Scripture. From Abraham (Gn 18:27) to Job (46:2) to Isaiah (61:3) there is an understanding that wearing ashes is a sign of a need for deeper conversion and more faithful living.” 
Father Bakkelund adds that “while marking our foreheads with ashes has been the traditional method in the United States of America — which we inherited from the Irish who largely influenced the beginnings of Catholicism in this nation — we have an opportunity to receive ashes in the Biblical method which is practiced throughout the Catholic world, most notably, in the city of Rome. 
“It will be an adjustment for American Catholics to be sure,” he added. “We often appreciate the visible reminder of the importance of Ash Wednesday.” 
At the same time, “This year we have a moment to recall the words of the liturgy of Ash Wednesday itself, taken from Matthew’s Gospel, ‘When you fast anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.’”
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