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In the time of COVID-19, Catholic Church modifies Ash Wednesday ritual

By Brooke Villanueva Published Feb 16, 2021 9:53 pm Updated Feb 17, 2021 12:32 am

Today is Ash Wednesday—and with a myriad of health protocols amid COVID-19, you might be wondering how you will receive ashes to symbolize repentance from sin. 

The Episcopal Commission on Liturgy by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines noted in their guidelines that they would use cotton balls to mark the forehead or sprinkle ashes on the head. 

Photos by Miguel De Guzman/Philippine Star

This was further explained by its chairperson Baguio Bishop Victor Bendico, according to the Philippine News Agency (PNA). “Each of the faithful who wants to receive the imposition of ashes approaches the minister. The minister, with the aid of a cotton ball dipped into the vessel of the blessed ashes, traces the cross on the forehead of the faithful,” he said, adding that the minister uses a different cotton ball for each churchgoer.

The faithful lining up on Ash Wednesday.

How else is it going to be different this time? PNA reported that “the priest says the prayer for blessing the ashes. He sprinkles the ashes with holy water, without saying anything, then he addresses all those present. He would say 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.’”

The government now allows 50% capacity for religious gatherings in GCQ areas.

Starting Feb. 15, the government has allowed a 50% capacity for religious gatherings in GCQ areas. According to, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing, "Inapruban po ng IATF (Inter–Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) ang pag-relax or pagluwag ng restrictions sa mga relihiyosong pagtitipon sa lugar na nasa general community quarantine simula Lunes, akinse ng Pebrero. Pinapayagan na sa mga lugar na nasa GCQ ang religious service na hanggang 50 percent ng seating o venue capacity."

Meanwhile, for those who will celebrate the liturgy at home online or on television, the CPCP recommended that they “be given a small plastic sachet containing blessed ashes” that they can impose on their family members. 

The Catholic Church has modified their guidelines for liturgical celebrations since the COVID-19 outbreak started last year. “Our Liturgical celebrations, especially the Lenten season, Paschal Triduum, and Easter Season of 2020, have been modified to keeping the essentials while helping our faithful experience with the same solemnity and fruitfulness the Paschal mystery of the Lord,” Bendico said.