Instead of daubing ash on the forehead, the priests may sprinkle it on the head of parishioners.
Miguel de Guzman/File
Church eyes non-contact Ash Wednesday
Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) - February 18, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Some dioceses might break the traditional way of observing Ash Wednesday this year due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) threat.

Instead of daubing ash on the forehead, the priests may sprinkle it on the head of parishioners.

Kalookan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David told Radio Veritas that while masses would still be held on Ash Wednesday, there would be changes in the way the religious tradition is observed.

“We will not be canceling masses. But we will be taking some precautions,” David, vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said.

He issued the statement following reports that Hong Kong apostolic administrator Cardinal John Tong Hon suspended the holding of masses in the city as a preventive measure against the virus.

David said there is no need to suspend masses in Kalookan. He recommended that instead of the traditional way of daubing ash on the forehead, the ash might just be sprinkled on the head to avoid body contact.

David also recommended that churches refrain from putting up holy water fonts into which parishioners dip their fingers before making a sign of the cross.

Instead, he said, parishioners should remain seated and wait for lay ministers or priests to go around and sprinkle holy water on them.

For Catholics, Ash Wednesday marks the start of the 40-day Lenten season, during which the faithful are encouraged to observe fasting and abstinence.

In a letter dated Jan. 29, the CBCP issued guidelines on the prevention of COVID-19 and recommended communion in hand.

Churches, parishes and chapels have been urged to check and change regularly the holy water in the fonts and install protective cloth on the grills of confession booths.

The practice of holding hands during the singing of the Lord’s Prayer or “Our Father” is being discouraged as well as the shaking of hands during the sign of peace.

The CBCP has also issued an oratio imperata for the COVID-19.

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