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Ash Wednesday will be different for Catholics this year amid COVID-19 concerns

The Vatican has issued new guidelines for Ash Wednesday. Ashes will be sprinkled onto the head instead of the forehead.

DALLAS — Ash Wednesday, an important day for Catholics, is going to look different this year.

Instead of the priest or deacon using ashes to make the sign of the cross on people's foreheads, ashes will be sprinkled on top of people's heads.

Also, the priest will bless the ashes all at once instead of individually speaking to and blessing everyone.

The Vatican recently sent down the new rules to churches worldwide because of COVID-19.

But the sprinkling tradition itself is not new.

Dallas Bishop Greg Kelly issued a video about it Wednesday.

"This is not an innovation because of the pandemic. Rather, it is a practice that has roots deep in the tradition of the church and is to this day the customary practice of the distribution of ashes in many other countries, including Italy and Poland,” Kelly said in the video.

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Al Martinez is a faithful Catholic who recently had COVID-19 and understands the need for the change.

"We will have traditionalists who really want the ash on the forehead, but this really is the best thing we can do right now,” Martinez said.

One priest at St. Rita Catholic Church in Dallas said he would quickly sprinkle the ashes on parishioners' heads:

"I will keep a mask on and just reach out quickly on top of the head and sprinkle the ashes. That is to minimize everything that covid has made us aware of,” said Father Joshua Whitfield.

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While this year is different, the symbolism stays the same.

Ash Wednesday symbolizes repentance and mortality.

"I would think in this time of COVID, the significance of Ash Wednesday is even greater because we have to come face to face with our weakness, our mortality and our need for one another,” Whitfield said.

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And it will also be different for children who go to Catholic schools.

Instead of having them go to mass to get the ashes, teachers will receive the ashes already blessed. The teachers will be the ones who will then sprinkle ashes on student’s heads.

Also, the Catholic Church is reminding people that Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation; in other words, Catholics can stay home -- especially if they don't feel safe going to Ash Wednesday mass this year.

“If they don’t feel comfortable, they should not come,” Whitfield said.

Editor's note: The below video about Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday is from 2019.