During this time of Pandemic, the Holy See has modified the method of distributing ashes as contained in the following Note from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued January 12, 2021:
NOTE ON ASH WEDNESDAY
Distribution of Ashes in Time of Pandemic
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, applying it to all in general: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
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.
Although not mentioned in the NOTE ON ASH WEDNESDAY, in addition to the priest, a deacon is an ordinary minister for the distribution of ashes. Lay persons, as extraordinary ministers, may assist in the distribution of ashes that are already blessed by a priest/deacon either at Mass or by taking them to the sick or shut-ins. Also, ashes may be blessed and distributed for groups outside of Mass according to format described in the Book of Blessings, n. 1656-1678.
The most important variance as indicated by the NOTE from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is the sprinkling of ashes on the top of each person’s head. This is to avoid the physical contact which occurs when the ashes are placed on the forehead in the sign of the cross.
This is the common manner that is used in Europe and elsewhere for centuries.
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