Sprinkling replaces forehead ashes on Ash Wednesday 2021, due to ongoing COVID pandemic

Ashes will be distributed by sprinkling on the heads of the faithful this year, rather than by tracing a cross upon the forehead.

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

Ash Wednesday is going to look a little different in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon this year.

Ashes will be distributed by sprinkling on the heads of the faithful this year, rather than by tracing a cross upon the forehead, as directed by Bishop Mark Hagemoen under the guidance of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The changes are to minimize any risk of spreading COVID-19 and follow guidance from the Vatican that was released Jan. 12, 2021, and signed by Cardinal Robert Sarah.

A Feb. 2 memo from the diocesan Liturgical Commission shared the directions of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments:

“The Priest says the prayer for blessing the ashes. He sprinkles the ashes with holy water, without saying anything. Then he 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.'” (In the past, the words would be said to each person individually).

The instructions continue: “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 who are standing in their places. The Priest takes the ashes and sprinkles them on the head of each one without saying anything.”

The diocesan Liturgical Commission memo also affirmed that distribution of ashes is permitted outside of Mass.

The option of a simplified format outside of Mass “may assist in safely and practically facilitating a greater participation of the faithful throughout this day which marks the beginning of the Lenten season. Priests may also choose to distribute Ashes as pastorally necessary beyond Ash Wednesday into the initial days of Lent,” notes the diocesan memo.

COVID-19 restrictions in effect until Feb. 19, 2021 in the province of Saskatchewan permit only 30 persons to gather in-person for worship services, with appropriate distancing and other measures in place.

Given those restrictions on attendance, parishes across the diocese are coordinating celebrations on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, which in many cases requires advance registration to attend in person (the faithful are asked to contact their local parishes regarding schedules, registration, and other details). Some parishes in the diocese have announced that ashes will be distributed after celebration of Mass as well.

Live-streaming of Mass by a number of priests in the diocese continues, including on Ash Wednesday, with the videos of Mass posted online at saskatoonmass.com

Bishop Mark Hagemoen will celebrate Mass at 12:15 pm on Ash Wednesday, live-streamed at saskatoonmass.com and on the diocesan YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/saskatoondiocese 

Rite of Election

The Rite of Election – which is normally a diocesan celebration on the First Sunday of Lent for catechumens preparing to be baptized, confirmed and welcomed to the Eucharistic table at Easter – will this year be celebrated in individual parishes rather than altogether as a diocese at the Cathedral of the Holy Family, because of the restriction on the size of gatherings for worship.

In a Jan. 20, 2021 message, Bishop Mark Hagemoen explained: “Pastors are hereby delegated to carry out the Rite of Election in the parish,” noting that in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, it states: “the Rite of Election is to be celebrated about six weeks before the sacraments of initiation, so that there is sufficient time for the scrutinies and the presentations.” Catechumens will sign pages from the Book of the Elect in their home parishes this year — with the signed pages sent to the diocese after the local celebrations.

Wording change

Another change is coming to the familiar rites of the Church Feb. 17 due to a recent revision to the English translation of the Roman Missal approved for Canada.

The Canadian Conference of the Catholic Bishops announced in December that the conclusion of the Collect (and similar prayers) will change from saying “one God” to, simply, “God.” For example, the Collect may now end like this: “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.”

The change came after the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments contacted the CCCB to say the English translation of the Latin mistakenly introduced the word “one.”

“The Dicastery informed the conference’s president of the decision that the word ‘one’ is deemed incorrect, could cause doctrinal confusion, and should no longer be used,” wrote CCCB president Archbishop Richard Gagnon Dec. 8, 2020.

Another CCCB document explains the change “is to avoid possible misunderstandings of the Son within the Blessed Trinity, or even the misconception that Our Lord Jesus Christ is ‘one God’ among others.”

With this change – which comes into effect on Ash Wednesday 2021 – the English version will now also be consistent with the Latin text, as well as conform to translations into other languages including French. The new wording, which amends the English-language translations of n. 54 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, will be incorporated into all future editions of liturgical books approved for use in Canada.


With files from Catholic News Agency, The B.C. Catholic, and the CCCB Communications Office.