SANTA FE – Local churches in New Mexico have said services on Ash Wednesday will be altered in an effort to reduce further spread of the coronavirus.
Instead of priests applying ashes to foreheads in the shape of a cross, ashes will be sprinkled atop parishioners’ heads to avoid person-to-person contact or distributed in individual containers to allow people to apply the ashes themselves, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
The precautions are expected to complement state health guidelines that require masks and limit capacity for places of worship in Santa Fe County, which includes Santa Fe, to 33%.
“If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we really do depend on each other,” said the Rev. Tim Martinez, pastor and rector at the Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
Ash Wednesday, which launches the beginning of Lent, will have additional weight this year after about a year into the pandemic, which has resulted in widespread loss of life. It will also mark the return of in-person Mass at the cathedral, which has been closed since fall because of COVID-19.
The Roman Catholic Cathedral will be limited to 70 people on a first-come, first-served basis, and the cathedral will distribute ashes during 15-minute prayer services throughout the day.
Santa María de la Paz Catholic Community said its parishioners will apply the ashes themselves, or to members of their immediate family. Officials say ashes can be picked up during drive-up communion for people who are not attending Mass in person.
“You can’t really sprinkle ashes on somebody’s head at 6 feet away, and so that’s why we came up with this idea of individual cups,” said Brenda Weimer, liturgy director at the church.
People who have excess ashes are encouraged to bury or sprinkle them on the ground as a way to return them to the earth.