Today, churches around the world celebrate Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lenten period that ends with Easter. Traditionally, many who observe abstain from eating meat, fast, and go to an Ash Wednesday service to receive the sign of the cross in ashes on their forehead.
Having celebrants double dip their thumbs into bowls of dirt to smear on people’s faces is exactly the kind of behavior you don’t want during a pandemic, so churches have had to get creative to observe the day. To accommodate congregants who don’t want to attend services in person, churches around the country have begun to offer drive-thru ash smears or DIY ash baggies for those looking to paint their foreheads at home.
For those who choose to attend services in-person, the Ash Wednesday experience may be a bit messier than in the past. In the Archdiocese of Washington, per official guidance from the Vatican, Catholic priests will forgo the typical forehead blessing and will instead bless the ashes and sprinkle them with holy water, telling everyone present “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” the Archdiocese says in a press release. The celebrant will then “sprinkle the ashes on each person’s head without saying anything and without any physical contact.”