Colombia is predominately a Catholic country and despite churches closed for much of last year as part of the national government’s coronavirus health measures to restrict gatherings and religious activities, for the official start of Lent, on Ash Wednesday priests will not mark the sign of the cross on foreheads to avoid physical contact and risk coronavirus contagion.
In a letter released by the Holy See, officiating priests will bless the ashes, sprinkle them with holy water and recite the words from the Roman Missal – Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return – before “putting on a face mask and distributing the ashes to […] those who are standing in their places.”
As an instruction that can be modified by clergy according to the safety protocols of where they are based in the world, and with many nations in lockdown, the Archdiocese of Bogotá confirmed in a statement that priests will drop a small portion of ashes from a spoon into the left hand of the faithful so that each member can trace their own sign of the cross.
Churches will also have small packages of ashes available near entrances so that the ritual of Ash Wednesday can be celebrated at home. The innovative way of ash distribution is especially useful for those who do not want to risk attending mass in the company of others despite social distancing and obligatory use of face masks. The Catholic Church also recommends attending online services during the 40-days of Lent at a moment in which governments are rolling-out their vaccine programs and new cases of infection are beginning to decelerate in many countries, among them Colombia.