Ashes to be sprinkled over parishioners' heads during pandemic Ash Wednesday

The coronavirus pandemic will change the way ashes are distributed to Christians worldwide on Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season.

The Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a note describing the recommended process for the distribution of ashes to avoid close contact and the spread of the virus.

PARANAQUE, PHILIPPINES - FEBRUARY 26: Catholic devotees wearing protective masks fall in line to have their head sprinkled with ash during Ash Wednesday services at a church on February 26, 2020 in Paranaque city, Metro Manila, Philippines.(Photo by

After the ashes are blessed with holy water, the priest will recite the customary refrain to the entire congregation:  "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" or "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return".

The priests, deacons, or whoever is helping with the distribution of ashes, cleanses their hands and wearing a face mask, can sprinkle the ashes on each person's head who approaches him or goes to where they are standing.

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Normally, the ashes are placed on the forehead in the form of a cross. 

At St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, Timothy Cardinal Dolan told FOX 5 NY morning program, 'Good Day New York,' that priests at the cathedral would perform the customary sign of the cross on the forehead. 

Pope Francis is scheduled to distribute ashes during mass at St. Peter's Basilica:  "in the presence of a very limited number of faithful according to the modalities used in the past months, in respect of the protection measures provided."

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the 40- day solemn Lenten season that reflects the 40 days Jesus is believed to have spent in the desert and culminates on Easter Sunday.