Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, will mark the beginning of the first full season of Lent to take place during the pandemic. As such, the Office of Worship of the Diocese of Erie has announced new protocols that will be in place to ensure the day is observed safely.
The most noticeable difference is that priests will use a practice common in many parts of the world, sprinkling ash on the crown of the head rather than marking foreheads with the sign of the cross. This approach requires no physical contact.
Another significant difference is that the distribution of ashes will take place in silence this year. Per instruction from the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome, the priest will bless the ashes and sprinkle them with holy water. Then he will offer one of two prayers a single time rather than repeating it for each person. The phrases in the Roman Missal are: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The directives also require the use of hand sanitizer, and of masks.
Catholics are reminded that there never is an obligation to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. While the optional ritual is appreciated by many as a way to mark the beginning of Lent, the three pillars of the season are prayer, fasting and almsgiving, all of which can be practiced at home.
Sister Kathleen Dietz, FSO, recommends people consider almsgiving in broad terms this year. For those facing financial constraints, she notes that almsgiving can be practiced in the form of generosity of heart. Among the suggestions she makes are offering a smile of encouragement, even when it’s challenging; forgiving someone who has caused hurt; overlooking the faults of others, including not pointing them out; not gossiping; and, not least, giving time to family members, friends or a charitable organization.
The Office of Faith Formation of the diocese also has created a Lenten micro-site available at www.eriecd.org/lent.html. Called Mercy and Grace, it includes themes and ideas to consider on a week-by-week basis, as well as resources such as various Stations of the Cross meditations and a listing of Pope Francis’ prayer intentions that can be used throughout the year.
It also features a wish list curated from Catholic Charities agencies scattered throughout the 13 counties of the diocese for those who would like to incorporate them in their almsgiving.
“Lent is a time during which we are called to align our journey with Jesus, who wants to reveal himself and love us through prayer, fasting and almsgiving,” says Jillian Zaczyk, director of the Office of Young Adults and Youth for the diocese. “By participating in these practices, we encounter Jesus through conversation, purification and making the needs of other people our own. In this unique Lenten season, Jesus is with us wherever we start and cannot wait to take the first steps with you.”