February 17th is Ash Wednesday. Masses are scheduled for 6:45 am, 12:10 pm, and 7:00 pm. Ashes will be distributed during mass using the “Roman method” by which a small pinch of ashes are sprinkled on the top of the head rather than pressed on the forehead. This will allow us to honor the very important and sacred tradition of marking the beginning of Lent with ashes while also keeping appropriate health and safety measures. See information below about this “new” way of distributing ashes. It turns out that it is not new in many parts of the world.

Anna Asks: What is the proper way to administer ashes?

There are no set rules regarding this, and it largely depends on local custom. In most English-speaking countries the prevailing custom seems to be that the priest places enough holy water into the ashes to form a kind of paste. The ashes are then daubed in the form of a cross on the forehead. Many Catholics see this practice as a means of publicly showing their faith and leave the smudge on their forehead throughout Ash Wednesday. In other countries, such as Spain, Italy and parts of Latin America, the prevailing custom seems to be sprinkling fairly dry ashes on the crown of the head. But even within these geographical areas, both customs are practiced and there may be other legitimate traditions as well. The most important thing is to live the rite according to its true meaning. As No. 125 of the Directory for Popular Piety says: “The act of putting on ashes symbolizes fragility and mortality, and the need to be redeemed by the mercy of God. Far from being a merely external act, the Church has retained the use of ashes to symbolize that attitude of internal penance to which all the baptized are called during Lent. The faithful who come to receive ashes should be assisted in perceiving the implicit internal significance of this act, which disposes them towards conversion and renewed Easter commitment.”