The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. This day gets its name from the custom of marking a cross with ashes on the forehead as a sign of mortality, repentance, and faith in Christ. This year, due to COVID restrictions, the traditional process for doing this may need to be adapted.
The Commission on Worship has developed Advice on celebrating Ash Wednesday during the COVID-19 Pandemic (click here for the full document). The Commission on Worship recommends that all congregations contemplating the imposition of ashes check the current regulations in their state/territory and nation.
To summarise this document:
- The imposition of ashes is optional. The simplest course for congregations may be to omit the rite from Ash Wednesday services altogether.
For those congregations wishing to continue this tradition, the following options are recommended:
- Using the existing rite, the minister could administer ashes to each person’s forehead or the back of their hand using separate cotton buds for each person. OR
- Using the existing rite, a portion of ash may be placed in individual cups so that people can self-administer the ash as the pastor speaks the familiar words. OR
- The minister could sprinkle the ashes on each person’s head. OR
- The physical ashes could be replaced with a card printed with an ashen cross and the words “Repent and believe in the good news. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” GROW Ministries has prepared a printable resource to support this option here. OR
- A simple option would be for the congregation to remain seated during the rite, and when the minister proclaims the words, simply make the sign of the cross on their foreheads with their finger.
For more details including how to modify the explanation of the rite, please refer to the full document Advice on celebrating Ash Wednesday during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
For creative ideas on how to mark Ash Wednesday without the imposition of ashes click here.
GROW Ministries have generously made a whole range of Lenten resources available for free to support families and congregations during Lent and Holy Week. You will find these in the Children section of the Ash Wednesday, Lent and Easter services.