‘It’s dirt’: Ash Wednesday looks a little different this year

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FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — The season of lent begins Wednesday for Christians around the world.

Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance for Christians, is typically marked with ashes in the sign of a cross on the forehead. This year, the pandemic is changing how that will work.

The Vatican’s guidance for Ash Wednesday during a pandemic actually aligns with what the Vatican and many European countries always do — sprinkling the ashes on the head instead of making the sign of the cross on the forehead.

This year, the priest will say the prayer he usually says to each person, at the alter first, then will wear a mask when administering them in silence, to a parishioner also wearing a mask.

Some parishioners at St. Joseph’s Church in Fall River say they enjoyed this change in times because they know their relationship with Jesus is most important and that they don’t need the cross on their forehead to signify that.

Fr. Jay Mello agreed, and said while he was living in Rome, that’s what they always did there.

“Ash Wednesday, Jesus tells us do not perform righteous deeds so that they might be seen by others. And I think to myself, it always struck me as odd that that’s the gospel every Ash Wednesday and here we are putting something on our forehead to tell everybody, ‘I went to church today,'” Mello said. “So this year, I think it’s a better reminder that no one’s going to know. Just us and the Lord.”

“Sundays are more important, Sundays you’re receiving Jesus and the Eucharist,” Mello added. “Today we are literally giving you dirt, and I wondered why people got so excited about dirt. I mean it’s a great reminder, it’s a great sacrament and it’s a great tradition. But we are giving you dirt.”

At an Episcopal church in Barrington, the Reverend has instead pre-packaged business cards with crosses made of ashes on the back as a way of giving them out, without much contact.

In Lincoln, there’s expected to still be a drive-thru Ash Wednesday service Wednesday morning outside the Chapel Street Congregational Church. Another option for those trying to stay safe while marking the holy day.

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