The Archdiocese of Port of Spain has announced guidelines for the faithful to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday and the possibility of the distribution extending for two days as necessary. As the country seeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, measures have been implemented by the Archdiocese since last year in accordance with the safety protocols prescribed by the Health Ministry and World Health Organization.
On Thursday, February 4, the Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Team of the Archdiocese issued Bulletin #11 ‘Guidelines for the distribution of ashes and other Lenten services in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Trinidad and Tobago.’ It stated on Ash Wednesday, February 17, Catholic churches across the country will host their usual services but a “few changes” will take effect.
“In an attempt to avoid overcrowding, Archbishop Jason Gordon has granted permission to impose ashes at services on the follow dates: Wednesday, February 17; Thursday, February 18; Friday, February 19. The two additional dates may be used if considered necessary by the Parish Priest.”
For the ‘Production of Ashes’ each parish will prepare ashes by burning (dried) palm branches or leaves obtained by other means. Traditionally, the ashes come from burning palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service but this did not happen, because a lockdown was implemented from March and churches closed due to the pandemic.
The Guidelines stated, “To prevent coronavirus disease transmission, the distribution of ashes must occur in a manner that avoids direct skin-to-skin contact”.
Two options have been proposed for the ‘Distribution of Ashes’: The priest/minister sprinkles the blessed ashes on the top of the head of the penitent. Secondly, the priest/minister anoints the forehead of the penitent in the sign of the cross with a Q-tip dipped in the blessed ashes.
Each parish priest should decide which method(s) are best suited to his context and available material and human resources. Parishes are responsible for ensuring adequate numbers of Q-tips.
The faithful/penitent should ensure before processing for ashes that their mask is on and worn properly—fits securely over the nose and mouth; remove any/all head coverings such as shawl, scarf, mantilla, to expose the head.
The congregant: “Processes towards the altar keeping a 6ft distance behind the person ahead of them in the queue; stops in front of the priest, an arm’s length away; bows his/her head reverently and receives the ashes on the top of the head or keeps head upright and receives the ashes on the forehead which the priest will apply using a Q-tip”.
Other Lenten practices
“Catholic faithful are encouraged to pray the Stations of the Cross especially on Fridays during Lent, either as private worship or at public services. At this time, coordinated, mass gatherings for the procession of worshippers are not permitted.”
When the Stations are conducted within a church, attendees must remain in their pews and the seating capacity guidelines currently in effect used.
Parishes are urged to remind worshippers “that a face mask, covering the nose and mouth, MUST be worn at all times when in public, whether outdoors or indoors, and that they should keep a safe physical distance of 6ft away from anyone not from their own household”.
Parishes hosting retreats are encouraged to facilitate directed study or religious instruction employing digital tools and social media e.g., Facebook, WhatsApp or Zoom.
Any physical assembly of the Catholic faithful for retreats and other worship must follow the ‘Ministry of Health Guidelines for Places of Worship’ issued June 2020 and which have been modified to govern attendance at Mass in the Archdiocese.
An electronic copy of the Guidelines is available HERE.
For other Lenten services and rites, the HSE Team will soon issue other Guidelines for the Lenten Season, especially for Holy Week.