Ash Wednesday ushered in the 2021 Lenten season in the Diocese of Wilmington and around the world as pandemic regulations altered some of the norms for Catholics but did not keep those who were able from receiving ashes in a somewhat different form than in years past.
Liturgical guidelines issued by the diocese said ashes should not be administered by thumb on the foreheads of Catholics.
Distribution without direct contact is allowed. According to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water.
The diocese notes that in much of the world, ashes are sprinkled on top of the head. In addition, a priest may use an individual cotton swab to trace a cross on a recipient’s forehead. Both methods require masks for both parties.
The receiving of ashes is not required, according to the diocese. “The faithful should recognize that their own internal disposition and intention to repent is the importance of Ash Wednesday and that the ashes are an external sign of that internal reality.”
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.
The norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person may eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals or snacks that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding from age 14 onward.