Cardinal Thomas Collins archbishop of Toronto.

A different look to Ash Wednesday

By 
  • February 12, 2021

COVID has not cancelled Lent, nor Ash Wednesday, though a few things will feel a little different.

In the Archdiocese of Toronto and much of Canada, pastors will be offering slimmed down Ash Wednesday services Feb. 17, but also on the following three days until noon Saturday.

With Toronto church attendance capped at 10 due to pandemic restrictions, the extra days for distribution of ashes will give more Catholics an opportunity to begin the Lenten season receiving ashes, Cardinal Thomas Collins said in a Jan. 29 note to priests.

There are two versions of the liturgy for distribution of ashes — one that includes reception of the Eucharist and another without.

The two approved services do not stipulate that the minister distributing ashes must be a priest. “A priest, deacon, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion or other properly deputed person” are all authorized to lead the service.

Physically drawing a cross on a parishioner’s forehead is not recommended, says  a note from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. “The priest takes the ashes and sprinkles them on the head of each one,” said the note signed by Cardinal Robert Sarah.

Though Lent itself remains a season of fasting, prayer, charity and focus on God, things may feel a little different, Collins wrote.

“Traditional practices such as attending daily Mass during Lent, Stations of the Cross, etc. are not possible at this time,” he said. “The current pandemic restrictions will force us once again to fast from many Lenten traditions and we offer these sacrifices in addition to our prayers for those who are sick and those who have died, as part of our Lenten journey.”

But the basics remain. In keeping with the 1984 decree from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the days of fasting for Catholics between the ages of 18 and 60 are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fridays (both in the Lenten season and outside of it) are days of abstinence from meat for those 14 and older, but Catholics may substitute special acts of charity or piety instead of abstinence.

For pandemic regulations in your municipality, check your parish and diocesan websites.

More in this category: Into the Lenten desert »

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