Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, but many celebrate the day as it marks the beginning of the Lenten season. Catholics all over the SouthCoast usually attend mass and receive ashes on their foreheads, an external sign that one has begun the “forty-day season of prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving in preparation for the joyous celebration of Easter.”

However, the COVID-19 pandemic will impact how we celebrate Ash Wednesday in 2021. John Kearns is in the Communications Department for the Fall River Diocese. We reached out to see what Ash Wednesday and Lent as a whole will look like on the SouthCoast this year.

“Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17,” said Kearns. “The Vatican has given some guidance on the distribution of ashes. In the 'Note on Ash Wednesday,' the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments directed 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."

After the priest washes his hands and puts a mask on, he will "sprinkle ashes on the tops of parishioners’ heads rather than make the mark of the cross on someone’s forehead.”

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Kearns states that all safety restrictions will be in place during all services associated with Ash Wednesday and Lent. “Folks who do plan to go to church will see that it is different. From social distancing, participation, reduced occupancy, etc.”

Kearns did mention that for those who do wish to attend a mass for Ash Wednesday that they contact their local parish by phone, the parish website, or via the church bulletin for the schedule of masses and more information on how that is handled. “Due to the pandemic, we’ve been operating at 40 percent capacity. Some churches may suggest that you register with the parish ahead of time to reserve a seat and ensure that you can attend that specific mass.”

There are other options for those who do not physically attend mass. “We invite folks who feel comfortable to go to mass and to use the season to grow in holiness. However, we know that won’t always be the case. We hope folks will take advantage of online services as well.”

For Kearns, the more important thing is that we really accept the call of Lent, regardless of the pandemic. “There is a ‘bigger picture’ for those who cannot get to Ash Wednesday masses. Catholics can still recognize the Lenten season, seek out opportunities for charity, and experience a spiritual reawakening to bring them closer to Christ. That intention remains the same this year and every year during Lent.”

For more information on how you can celebrate Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season, please click HERE.

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