Ash Wednesday Like You’ve Never Seen It
Believe it or not Ash Wednesday is a few days away. This Wednesday we will begin our Lenten fast in preparation for the Great Solemnity of Easter. Lent will start a little bit differently this year. Having Ash Wednesday during a global pandemic will be a unique experience. Since physical contact is discouraged, imposing ashes on the forehead will be different. About a month ago the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments published an instruction about the distribution of ashes this year. Things will be a little different, but to be honest I’m excited about it.
There will be two changes to the distribution of Ashes. The first change is in regards to the words. Instead of saying to each individual, “remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return” or “repent and believe in the Gospel” the priest or deacon will say these words one time to the entire congregation.
The other change will be more noticeable. For the distribution of ashes, we always have two options.
1. To impose ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross or 2. To sprinkle ashes on the crown of the head. I don’t know any places in the United States that utilize the second option; it is a Roman thing. However this year, the entire Latin (Roman) Catholic Church will be sprinkling ashes on the crown of the head. We are all instructed to distribute ashes in this manner.
I realize that this may be disappointing to some people because you won’t have the visible cross on your forehead or get to see the ashes on your fellow parishioners. However I’m excited because this may be the only time in our lives that ashes will be distributed in this manner. I can’t imagine another time when ashes will be sprinkled instead of imposed. We get to use a very unique Catholic option.
There is one other liturgical change that will happen at Mass beginning Ash Wednesday. This will affect the entire English speaking world. It is a correction in the translation of the opening prayer at Mass. Often the opening prayer or collect ends with the line, “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.”
Beginning Ash Wednesday the word “one” will be omitted from the opening prayer. Including “one” is a mistranslation from the Latin; the word “one” doesn’t appear in the original Latin text. The phrase “God, forever and ever” refers to Jesus Christ. The corrected translation highlights the divinity of Jesus Christ. In a time of religious pluralism, we will be highlighting the fact that Jesus is truly God.
As we make this change, Fr. Jedidiah and I may forget to correct the translation. All of the liturgical books print the prayer using the word “one” and we don’t want to buy all new books. If we forget to make the change, be patient with us. We may be young priests, but it will still be tough to teach these old dogs new tricks.
These are exciting times that we live in. Who knew that Ash Wednesday would open up so many new liturgical possibilities? As always, please keep us in prayer. The Lord is always doing something exciting and we are blessed to get to follow wherever He leads.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Sean Wilson