Local Catholic churches will take on the customs used commonly in Europe this Ash Wednesday to avoid the risks of COVID-19.
Instead of tracing the mark of the cross on believers’ foreheads, they will have ashes sprinkled on the crown of their heads. The ashes placed by the priest to symbolize penitence and mortality as they begin observing the 40-day holy season of Lent.
“The sprinkling over the head is very common in Europe,” said Rev. Rod Kreidler of St. Edward Catholic Church in Ashland.
According to the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, the practices of both sprinkling ashes on the head and tracing a cross on the forehead were used in the past. At one time, it was common to sprinkle ashes on men’s heads and trace crosses on women’s foreheads because they wore head coverings in church.
In the United States, the practice of tracing crosses on the foreheads became common for everyone. In Europe, as fewer women wore a head covering, it became more common to sprinkle ashes on everyone’s head.
Instead of the priest telling each parishioner who steps forward to receive ashes “remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” the Rev. Don Oleksiak, the vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Cleveland, said priests will stand before the entire assembly and speak those words just once.
Priests in Ohio are optimistic but still a bit uncertain just how this sprinkling will go, as it is all new here, and no two ashes are alike.
Many churches produce their own ashes by collecting and burning the blessed palms handed out at the previous year’s Palm Sunday services. Kreidler said his church burned palms “many, many years ago” and still have plenty leftover, stored in Mason jars.
A beneficial outcome of this process is that it sometimes produces a grittier ash, which will make them easier to sprinkle.
The modification for Ash Wednesday follows a year of changes for how churches hold their services, many moving to live streaming options and limited capacity within the sanctuary for people who want to attend in-person.
“A lot of this, we learn as we go,” said Rev. Richard Samide, parochial vicar at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Wooster. “The biggest thing is being flexible and being responsive … We’ve hit a stride in terms of it’s been almost a year. We’ve gotten used to the masking and distancing. Everything else is wait and see.”
St. Edward will hold Ash Wednesday services at 8 a.m., 1:15 p.m., and 7 p.m.
St. Mary will hold mass at 7 a.m., 9 a.m., and 7 p.m. The church also will hold an outdoor service at noon near the shrine outside the southern entrance. The service will be shorter than the indoor masses and parishioners are encouraged to dress warmly.
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics also fast and abstain from meat, eating one full meatless meal and two smaller meals that are not equal to a full meal. Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent.
Reach Emily at 330-287-1632 or email@example.com.
On Twitter: @mogie242