Due to the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, the Vatican and our Diocese have modified how ashes are to be distributed this year. Check out “Thoughts on Ashes Being Placed on the Head” from the Desk of the Vicar General of the Diocese of Joliet below.
- You will not receive ashes on your forehead. The minister distributing ashes will come through the pews (as we do for communion) and sprinkle ashes (like a pinch of salt) on top of your head.
- The customary formula will be said only once, applying it to all in general.
- Ashes are blessed and distributed after the homily at either Mass or a Scripture Service.
Thoughts on Ashes Being Placed on the Head
From the Desk of the Vicar General of the Diocese of Joliet | February 2, 2021
Ashes, as a Jewish sign of penitence, were accepted by Christians. They are derived from burning palms from the previous year.
This outward symbol of private or public sorrow, sadness, or penance, is a proof of humility, a remembrance of our mortality, that we are made of dust and will return to dust. The custom of imposing ashes is a symbolic act signifying human mortality and total human dependence on the graciousness and mercy of God.
In the early Christian era ashes were imposed on public penitents, sprinkled on their penitential clothes.
The distribution of ashes gained popularity as many of the penitential practices once reserved for serious public sinners became standard for all the faithful. It was not until 1091, when Pope Urban II ordered the imposition of ashes on the heads of all the faithful, that the reception of ashes became mandatory and the Wednesday preceding the First Sunday of Lent became known as Ash Wednesday.
In order to maintain unity in practice with the Universal Church, we will be following the practices set forth by the Roman Congregation of Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.
From the Congregation of Divine Worship (1988):
“On the Wednesday before the first Sunday of Lent, the faithful receive the ashes, thus entering into the time established for the purification of their souls. This sign of penance, a traditionally biblical one, has been preserved among the Church’s customs until the present day. It signifies the human condition of the sinner, who seeks to express his guilt before the Lord in an exterior manner, and by so doing express his interior conversion, led on by the confident hope that the Lord will be merciful. This same sign marks the beginning of the way of conversion, which is developed through the celebration of the sacraments of penance during the days before Easter.”
In many English-speaking countries the custom has been to place ashes on the forehead and not the crown of the head. In Italy and other European Countries the ashes are placed on the crown of the head.
Due to the restrictions of Covid19, we are not imposing ashes on the forehead this year. For any person to person contact must be avoided. Rather, for the time being, we are returning to the more ancient custom of sprinkling ashes on the crown of the head.
Ash Wednesday Through Art
On Ash Wednesday, we begin the liturgical season of Lent. The ashes used for Ash Wednesday are made from the burned and blessed palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday. These ashes are the product of a ‘death’ of the palm branch, dried out and burned, and turned into the fine powder of ash. We use this sign of death at the beginning of Lent to mark our journey from ‘dying’ to self towards a new life. On Palm Sunday we will be given a new palm branch by the Church… Our faith takes us full circle. In this video we look a little closer to the ashes and the symbolism of the palm branches. As we embark on Ash Wednesday on this annual adventure in our faith, may we embrace each day Lent brings as an opportunity to bring us closer to Christ. Wishing you all a grace-filled Lent.