Carmel Bulletin, 14 February 2021

We are all used to the Ash Wednesday ritual. With a thumb dipped in ashes, a cross is marked on our foreheads, with the call: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”, or the blunt reminder: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

This Wednesday, we will again come forward to have this symbol of our mortality placed upon us. However, like many things this past year, COVID-19 means it will be a little different. This follows a directive that has been issued by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Firstly, the words that accompany this ritual will be said by the priest once, to all of us, before we come forward in procession. More notably, though, ashes will be sprinkled on the top of our heads, as opposed to the usual marking of a cross.

While this will seem an unusual practice to us, how ashes are placed on people does vary a little in different parts of the world. Putting ashes on the top of one’s head is a common practice elsewhere. What is more, sprinkling ashes is closer to the Hebrew tradition of wearing sackcloth and ashes as a sign of repentance; from which our Christian Ash Wednesday practice emerged.

So, while it will be a slightly different ritual for us this year, it is good that we are still able to receive a symbol that speaks powerfully to many Catholics, and in a way that connects us back more to Old Testament tradition. It will certainly be less noticeable to others, but we can take heart in the words of the Gospel we will hear on Wednesday – that God, who sees all that is done in secret, will reward us.

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