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Archives No cross of ashes this Ash Wednesday

February 10, 2021

By Jessica Hargrave
Contributing Writer

OGDENSBURG – Due to the ongoing pandemic, Ash Wednesday will look a bit different this year.

Instead of marking foreheads with ashes in the sign of the cross, ashes will be sprinkled on each parishioner’s head this Ash Wednesday, February 17. The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments asked priests to make the change due to the pandemic.

While it may sound odd to some, Father Bryan D. Stitt, director of Worship for the diocese, the practice is biblical and can be found scattered throughout scripture. For instance, the book of Joshua includes the reference, “Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, both he and the elders of Israel, and they put dust on their heads.”

Sprinkling ashes on top of one’s head is also customary in other parts of the world, including the Vatican. Father Stitt studied in Rome for five years. Every Ash Wednesday, he joined a group of Americans to get ashes on their foreheads at Mass.

“If you felt weird walking around in the U.S. with ashes on your forehead, try it in Italy where it’s not the norm,” Father Stitt explained. “People look at you like, ‘What is this all about?’”

On this day of repentance some may be concerned they won’t be showing the mark proving they witnessed the faith on Ash Wednesday, but it’s much more about what we say and do rather than what we show.

“It comes from a good place that we want to show they are a person of faith,” Father Stitt said. “This year, that is something we are going to miss, but it’s also an opportunity for this one year for us to think of other ways to show not just that it’s Ash Wednesday, but yes, I am a sinner, and yes, I have a savior.”

The Church has maintained precautions against COVID-19, continuing physical distancing requirements, limiting physical contact, and making masks mandatory to keep priests and parishioners safe and healthy.

When priests mark foreheads or sprinkle ashes they often say, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." This will also look different this year. Out of an abundance of caution, the dictum will be said by the whole congregation before people line up to receive of ashes.

Will these changes be permanent? Father Stitt says no.

“Ash Wednesday gives us a good reminder that there’s different ways of showing our unity and different ways of manifesting that one faith,” said Father Stitt.

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