Ash Wednesday

COVID brings changes to Ash Wednesday traditions

Father Eduardo Ortiz-Santiago sprinkles ashes over parishioners’ heads on Ash Wednesday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish on St. Thomas. The ashes represent death and repentance, and the Mass marks the start of the Lenten season for Christians around the world, who engage in fasting and prayer in the 40 days leading up to Easter. Catholic priests typically use their thumb to apply ashes to the forehead in the sign of the cross while saying a prayer over each parishioner:“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” But the Vatican issued revised instructions this year to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and priests said the prayer once before silently sprinkling ashes over each person’s head. About two dozen people received the blessing from Ortiz-Santiago on Wednesday, and all in attendance wore masks, sat in socially distanced pews, and used hand sanitizer upon entering the church.