Amid Pandemic, Vatican Offers Guidance on Ash Distribution for Ash Wednesday

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a note Jan. 12, directing priests to say the formula for distributing the ashes once to everyone present, rather than to each person.

Pope Francis receives ashes on his head during Ash Wednesday in Rome, Feb. 26, 2020.
Pope Francis receives ashes on his head during Ash Wednesday in Rome, Feb. 26, 2020. (photo: Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican gave guidance Tuesday about how priests can distribute ashes on Ash Wednesday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a note Jan. 12, directing priests to say the formula for distributing the ashes once to everyone present, rather than to each person.

The priest “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 to dust you shall return,’” the note said.

It continued: “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.”

The note was signed by the congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Robert Sarah, and its secretary, Archbishop Arthur Roche.

Ash Wednesday falls on Feb. 17 this year.

In 2020, the divine worship congregation put out various instructions for priests on administering the sacraments and offering Mass during the coronavirus pandemic, including for the celebration of Easter, which occurred when many countries were in lockdown and public liturgies were not permitted.

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