“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word. (from the Ash Wednesday service, The Book of Common Prayer, page 265).
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I have always loved that passage quoted above from our brothers and sisters in the Anglican communion. It reminds me of our call to a holy observance of Lent.
The imposition of ashes begins this journey by reminding us that we are but creatures of dust, created by God, and lost without his saving grace. Many of us think of ourselves as immortal. It is important that we stop at least once a year to remind ourselves of the reality of death in our lives, and of our need for the salvation that is found in Christ alone. Many Christians adopt a four-fold discipline of prayer, fasting, study, and almsgiving in Lent. Although it is still a few weeks away, many of you are asking what to do about administering ashes on Ash Wednesday. While we find great meaning in this symbol, and while it is also a sacred opportunity for us to connect with our communities through administering ashes to staff at hospitals and commuters at train stations, we must remain mindful of health and safety in this time of pandemic.
The tradition of imposition of ashes into a visible cross is part of who we are as people of faith and the symbolism is transformative as we enter Lent. There are options that may even be a more ancient method of observing the rite, like the one that our Latin Rite friends will observe with sprinkling ash on one’s head, but more likely will not be as satisfying to the recipient (since there will be no visible cross). I, for one, find the act of imposition on my forehead to be a deep and needed reminder of my own mortality and a need for transformation and penance. And while I must be mindful that we are living through a time where the virus has taken many lives, I believe we can achieve both with careful process. I have made hundreds of decisions that show that I care about the health and safety of everyone in our parish, school, grounds and retreat center. Each of you, and every visitor, are always at the forefront of all my prayers. For that reason, I would like to impose a few guidelines to help us come together for the start of Lent.
ASH WEDNESDAY SERVICES
We will offer services for the imposition of ashes, but only a service to limit the time spent within the confines of the Sanctuary; there will be no mass offered this year. As we will be permitted to gather in person, we will begin to do so on this day, February 17th at 12:15pm and 6:00pm; and Sundays thereafter for one Mass only offering in person at 9:00am and a Virtual Mass at 7:30am.
ASH WEDNESDAY PROTOCOLS
For the imposition of ashes, clergy will be available to offer in three forms:
(1) Imposition of ashes on the forehead and sanitizing their thumb in between each imposition.
(2) The other clergy will offer ashes sprinkled in the recipients hand where they may then self-impose the cross on their own forehead.
(3) Persons can simply come forward and receive a blessing without the imposition of ashes. In addition, there are a several options and protocols, which we will observe including:
- We will prepare the ashes to allow the faithful gathered to to self-administer ahead of time.
- Similarly, we will offer a cleansing bowl for them to use following such imposition to clean their hands of any remaining ash.
- Moreover, the ashes used this year will be ground as finely as possible and not mixed with any water or oil.
- Also, the annual offering “Ashes to Go” at local transportation or regional outdoor sites is prohibited this year.
SAFE ATTENDANCE AT MASS PROTOCOLS
We will follow all previous protocols: Mask wearing remains a must, temperature checks will continue at the door by the Greeters, all clergy and servers will wash thoroughly before Mass and sanitize their hands at the Altar before the instructions and blessing of Ashes and at the Offertory for Sundays. We will also ask that everyone who wishes to attend reserve a seat be way of our online portal available at our website’s homepage.
Obviously, our in-person gatherings will strictly adhere to our previous protocols when it comes to attendance, including maintaining safe and adequate distance between people and families and minimizing the length of time anyone is in close proximity to one another. Further, we will maintain a minimum of 2 hours between Masses/Services to ensure proper air exchange and ventilation as well as cleaning and sanitizing protocols between.
Into a world cluttered with selfishness, anger, anxiety, and offensive images comes God’s call to a holy Lent. The holy season calls us to remember our mortality. As we enter into it, let us take every precaution to protect and preserve the lives of those in our care.
On Ash Wednesday, we said, “Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.” In a way, all of us return to dust and dirt. As Sam Chandler once reminded me, “…to be close to the earth does not necessarily mean “dirty” in a bad sense. “Humus,” as every gardener knows, is good dirt; from good dirt grow the most fruitful plants. I look forward to the humility of Lent.
May it be so,
Monsignor +Jim, Pastor