ASH WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 17
Because of the pandemic, the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday will be different this year. Instead of the minister placing ashes on each individual forehead, the minister will sprinkle ashes on top of each person’s head, in silence. Sprinkling ashes on the head is not a common practice in the United States, but it is common in Europe and elsewhere.
The primary reason why the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for the sprinkling of ashes on our head in silence, instead of placing them on our foreheads using the traditional words, is to minimize the necessity of physical contact between the minister and recipient and to remove the need for the minister to speak while in close proximity to the recipient.
The sprinkling of ashes on the crown of the head is a very ancient symbol which recalls the biblical method of putting on sackcloth and ashes as a sign of penance. As we read in the Book of Nehemiah, “On the twenty-fourth day of this month, the people of Israel gathered while fasting and wearing sackcloth, their heads covered with dust” (9:1).
Of course, the tradition of placing ashes on the forehead allows the ashes to be visible to others so the penitential focus of the day is more observable. This year, adhering to the Gospel of Matthew which we hear proclaimed at Mass on this day, the communal, penitential nature of the day will be kept more private.
Masses on Ash Wednesday will be celebrated in church at 6:45am, 8:00am (also live on Facebook) and at 7:00pm.
FAST & ABSTINENCE
Ash Wednesday (February 17) and Good Friday (April 2) are days of fast and abstinence. Fasting is required of Catholics aged 18-59 and means having one full meal, two smaller meals, and nothing in between meals, though water and medicine are always permitted. Abstinence is abstaining from eating meat for all Catholics over the age of 14. No Catholic should lightly excuse himself or herself from this obligation.
All Fridays in Lent are days of abstinence from meat. Here again, Catholics will not hold themselves lightly excused, but if there is a serious health problem, this obligation does not apply. Catholics should strive to make all days of Lent a time of prayer and penance.