Ash Wednesday Liturgical COVID Guidelines

Ash Wednesday Liturgical COVID Guidelines

Our liturgical observances of Ash Wednesday this year will hold special, poignant meaning. It was around Ash Wednesday a year ago that this pandemic came into our national awareness (though the disease had infected people beginning some months before). And so, this February 17th, we will recall, each in our own way, the devastating loss of so many people to COVID-19 over this past year in the world, our nation, our state, our local communities, and among our families and friends.

Our liturgical observances of Ash Wednesday this year will hold special, poignant meaning. It was around Ash Wednesday a year ago that this pandemic came into our national awareness (though the disease had infected people beginning some months before). And so, this February 17th, we will recall, each in our own way, the devastating loss of so many people to COVID-19 over this past year in the world, our nation, our state, our local communities, and among our families and friends.

- Ash Wednesday is always a day when we are confronted with our mortality and our sinfulness, as we enter the penitential season of Lent. And it is also a day on which we are comforted by our belief in the resurrection of the dead, and the forgiveness of sins, given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that this Ash Wednesday will call to mind in us not only our need to repent, given the uncertainties of this mortal life, but also the love and mercy abundantly given to us through our Savior.

- Some would say that this past year has been like an extended Lent, and in some respects, I would agree. If so, we are assured that Easter joy will indeed arrive: the Easter of this liturgical year, the Easter of this pandemic’s end, and the Easter resurrection that is eternal, that has been promised us.

- As we plan our liturgies for Ash Wednesday, here are some practical guidelines to keep in mind, given the continued dangers of COVID.

- All of our usual COVID protocols remain in place, including mandatory face coverings, social distancing, hand sanitizing, limited singing, gathering outside when possible, and not sharing food and beverages (other than the sacrament, and that with the consecrated host only). Virtual options for those not able to attend in person are strongly encouraged.

- Remember that the imposition of ashes is not required in the liturgy for Ash Wednesday (the Prayer Book says “If ashes are to be imposed…”). You may simply leave the ashes out, saying together Psalm 51 and the Litany of Penitence.
Clergy might consider the more ancient (and arguably more Biblical) practice of sprinkling ashes on the head, which was the norm well before our current practice of signing the cross with ashes on the forehead.

- If ashes are to be imposed, it would wise to pray over the ashes (bless them with holy water, if desired), then say only once, to all the people: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” followed by imposing the ashes on those who wish to receive them. This eliminates speaking within six feet.

- You are welcome to consider imposing the ashes in ways that minimize contact, such as a Q-tip, though it seems relatively clear that COVID transmission is almost entirely airborne. It is unlikely that imposing ashes presents any more risk than Holy Communion.

-Unlike Holy Communion, the ashes are not a sacrament, so there is more flexibility for the consideration of other options away from the church building, such as having people use ashes or dirt from home as part of virtual worship. If clergy have a question or creative idea you’d like to try, please be in touch with me or Canon Eric, and we can work with you to help determine if it is advisable.


Please know of my continued prayers for all the Episcopalians in Oklahoma, and my sincere gratitude for the many ways we have loved God and our neighbors throughout this crisis.


Blessings,

Bishop Poulson

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