Filipino Catholics have their foreheads marked with ash on Ash Wednesday as part of Lenten tradition. This year ash will be sprinkled on their heads as part of measures to help curb the spread of Covid-19 (Photo: Jhun Dantes)

By Joseph Peter Calleja, Manila

Jan 27 2021

Coronavirus rules mean no marking of the forehead by priests with ash

Catholic bishops in the Philippines have released new guidelines for celebrating Ash Wednesday on Feb. 17.

Priests will bless the ashes in silence before saying a verse in Scripture only once instead of repeating it to each churchgoer.

“The priest says the prayer for blessing the ashes. He sprinkles the ashes with holy water without saying anything. Then he addresses all those present and only once says the formula as it appears in the Roman Missal,” said the prelates, quoting the Vatican’s Congregation on Divine Worship.

Clergymen shall then sprinkle ashes on a churchgoer’s head instead of making a cross on their forehead.

“The priest then cleans 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 person without saying anything,” the bishops added.

Parishes can also use dried leaves of plants and trees instead of old palm leaves to make ashes.

Church tradition has it that ashes are made from old palm leaves blessed on past Palm Sundays.

“Many parishes will find it difficult to obtain old palms blessed during the celebration of Palm Sunday in 2020. Our celebration last year was in the absence of our people because of the strict lockdown and only a few palms were blessed on the occasion,” said the prelates.

These protocols will prevent the spread of coronavirus without sacrificing the essence of Lenten liturgy, according to the guidelines.

“The time of the pandemic has affected all aspects of our life and even our liturgical celebrations. Since the start of the pandemic, we have issued directives and guidelines to help all our pastors and Christian communities in the proper celebration of the liturgy,” said the bishops.

“We continue to pray for the healing of many and the end of the pandemic. We thank God for the gift of the vaccines. We pray for the wisdom and compassion for our government leaders in the just and equitable distribution of the vaccines.”

Churchgoers welcomed the guidelines and hoped they would minimize the transmission of the virus.

“It is the first time I will receive the ashes sprinkled on my head. I have always received them on my forehead in the form of a cross. But the guidelines are meant to prevent Covid-19 from spreading,” Manila parishioner Alfonso De Guzman told UCA News.

De Guzman explained how churchgoers would previously gather old palms to be given to their parishes.

“We were very busy before in gathering old fronds from house to house of fellow parishioners. I used to put them in a sack and removed their plastic ribbons before giving them to the parish,” he said. – UCANews