Covid situation being monitored ahead of Ash Wednesday

Ashes are distributed at St. Helen Church in Glendale, Arizona, in this 2016 file photo.  Ash Wednesday -- March 1 this year in the Western church calendar -- marks the start of Lent, a season of sacrifice, prayer and charity. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec) file photo

There is a reasonable likelihood that New Zealand priests will still use ashes to form a sign of the cross on parishioners’ foreheads this Ash Wednesday (February 17), rather than sprinkling the ashes on their (parishioners’) heads, as recommended by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

New Zealand’s bishops, though, are closely monitoring the situation, as new Covid-19 cases have emerged in Northland and Auckland. On January 29, when NZ Catholic went to press, the bishops declined to make a statement, pending further development, NZ Catholic was told.

The congregation gave the procedure as a special anti-Covid-19 precaution. This was contained in a note published on the congregation’s website on January 12.

Before the new cases were made public, Siobhan Dilly, executive officer of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, told NZ Catholic: “As New Zealand does not have community transmission, the bishops agreed they will not require priests to follow the Congregation’s note regarding the distribution of Ashes.”

In a January 29 media conference, Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins announced there were no further new cases in the community to that point. The transmissions of the three cases in the community came in MIQ.

The congregation’s note said that, in the procedure set out, the priests are not to say anything while they are sprinkling the ashes.

Beforehand, the priests are to say either “Repent and believe in the Gospel”, or “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return”, once only to all assembled.

With the country being in lockdown on Palm Sunday last year, NZ Catholic asked several priests what they intend to use to make the ashes this year.

The priests said that they have enough palms to make blessed ashes.

“While there were no public Masses on Palm Sunday 2020, we offered blessed palms to our parishioners to pick up from outside the closed front doors of the church. Hopefully, some parishioners will bring their palm back for burning; but we have left-over palms we can use as well,” said Msgr David Tonks, parish priest of St Joseph’s parish in Takapuna.

Wellington’s Sacred Heart Cathedral parish priest Fr David Dowling said that “we have made ashes from blessed palms, which were available from the previous year”.

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Rowena Orejana

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