Ash Wednesday without ashes? CHA offers resources for COVID-safe observances

January Online

Jan. 23, 2021


As mission departments in Catholic health care facilities are looking toward mid-February, they may be struggling to determine how best to mark the occasion of Ash Wednesday, a day when Catholics do penance as they ponder the certainty of death and the promise of Christ's resurrection.

Ash Wednesday, which this year falls on Feb. 17, opens the Lenten season of fasting and prayer. Many Catholics begin the contemplative journey by attending Mass and receiving an anointing with ashes to signify mortality.

This year, with chapels at many hospital and long-term care facilities closed or with their Masses and observances significantly curtailed by pandemic-related restrictions, the mission departments of these facilities likely cannot mark Ash Wednesday in their traditional way.

CHA has developed a collection of Ash Wednesday resources to help plan observances. The resources align with precautions for Ash Wednesday issued in mid-January by the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The Vatican instructions say that rather than addressing each person at a Mass individually with words of repentance and marking the sign of the cross on people's foreheads with ashes, priests should speak the words once to the congregation and then, after washing hands and putting on a face mask, sprinkle the ashes over congregants' heads.

CHA's mission department created a service that includes readings, reflections and prayers for Ash Wednesday. It can be used in virtual or in-person services or emailed to patients and staff.

A short CHA video symbolically replicating the application of ashes can be used as part of the prayer service or as a stand-alone devotion.

Carrie Meyer McGrath, CHA director of mission services, was instrumental in creating the resources. She says, "Although we can't mark Ash Wednesday in the usual way in this very unusual year, the faithful still want to acknowledge the powerful call to be prayerful as they embark on the season of Lent."

The resources are available at



Copyright © 2020 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2021 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.