FALL RIVER — Lent, the forty-day season of prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving in preparation for the joyous celebration of Easter, begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021.
Parishes throughout the Fall River Diocese will mark the start of Lent with the traditional rite of distribution of ashes. Symbolic of penance, ashes are blessed and distributed on that day as a reminder that Lent is a time for repentance and spiritual renewal.
In January, the Vatican gave guidance on the distribution of ashes amid the coronavirus pandemic. In its January 12th “Note on Ash Wednesday,” the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments directed priests to say the formula for distributing the ashes once to everyone present, rather than to each person.
The priest “addresses all those present and only once says the formula as it appears in the Roman Missal, applying it to all in general: ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel,’ or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,’” the note said.
The “Note” continued: “The priest then cleanses his hands, puts on a face mask and distributes the ashes to those who come to him or, if appropriate, he goes to those standing in their places. The priest takes the ashes and sprinkles them on the head of each one without saying anything.”
According to Catholic News Service, sprinkling ashes on the top of people’s heads, rather than marking the foreheads with ashes, is the customary practice at the Vatican, throughout Italy and in some other countries. Given concern about the spread of the coronavirus, the practice has the advantage of not requiring the priest or deacon to touch multiple people.
Ash Wednesday in not a holyday of obligation and there is no requirement for the faithful to receive the imposition of ashes; it is, however, a day that traditionally draws Catholics to church. All safety protocols in place for worship during the pandemic including occupancy restrictions and socially-distanced seating will be followed.
During Lent, the Church calls for days of abstinence and fasting:
- Abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday, all Fridays during Lent and Good Friday for those aged 14 and older;
- Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday for those aged 18 through 59. Fasting is defined as eating only one full meatless meal. Two other meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to one’s needs.
Those who are not obliged to fast or abstain from meat are encouraged to join in those disciplines to the extent that they are able.
Catholics are urged to regard the Lenten season as a serious time for spiritual renewal by intensifying prayer, practicing works of piety, and seeking out opportunities for charity. These three pillars of Lent ˗˗prayer, fasting and almsgiving˗ are encouraged to will help Catholics experience a spiritual reawakening that will bring them closer to Christ.
It is customary for parishes to offer liturgical services, missions and retreats, or sometimes enrichment programs as opportunities for spiritual growth during Lent. This year, many of these will be available virtually. Parishioners should check their parish bulletins and/or websites for listings of such events.