Lent is coming! Next Wednesday, February 17th is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. For us it is a time of repentance and renewal. For others among us it is also a time of preparation for the sacraments to be celebrated at Easter.
On Ash Wednesday we hear the call to come back to the Lord through prayer, fasting, and works of charity. We begin the Season of Lent with the distribution of Blessed Ashes. The ashes come from branches of the olive tree, or the palm tree which were used the previous year for Palm Sunday.
As with everything else this past year, Ash Wednesday will be different this year. We have had a year filled with different ways of living and praying. The obligation to attend Mass is suspended. There are fewer people in church. Many people participate in Mass by way of live streaming or on television. There is no Holy Water in the Fonts at the entrances to the church to bless ourselves. We are greeted with hand sanitizer instead. People must wear masks when they are in church. There is no Sign of Peace. People must be separated from one another. There are no gatherings after Mass. Yet we still have been able to pray, just in different ways.
This year due to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic ashes will not be imposed on our foreheads because there isn’t adequate opportunity for the minister distributing ashes to sanitize their hands between each individual. Instead of the traditional method of a cross of ashes on our foreheads, we will use the European custom of sprinkling ashes on the crown of a person’s head as directed by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. This method recalls the biblical manner of putting on sackcloth and ashes as a sign of repentance that we hear so often in scripture.
We can still repent and believe in the Gospel. We can still carry out our Lenten practices. We can still grow closer to God.