Distribution of ashes will be different due to COVID-19 pandemic

SCRANTON – On Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera will be principal celebrant and homilist for the 12:10 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton.

The Mass will be open to the public following COVID-19 safety protocols, including wearing face masks and physical distancing. The Mass will also be broadcast live on CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton and livestream on the Diocese of Scranton website and across all social media platforms.

Due to the pandemic, Ash Wednesday will look different this year but the significance of the day will not change. Ashes can be distributed to the Catholic faithful as long as there is no direct contact. Parishes have been asked to select one of two possible options for the distribution of ashes on February 17.

  1. Ashes can be sprinkled on top of the head

In much of the world, the normal way of distributing ashes is to sprinkle ashes on top of the head, with no contact, rather than imposing them on the forehead. During distribution, both the minister and the recipient must be wearing masks.

For this distribution method, the priest will say the prayer for blessing the ashes. He will sprinkle the ashes with holy water, without saying anything. Then he will address all those present and only once say the call to repentance (“Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”). The minister will then take the ashes and sprinkle them on the head of each individual without saying anything.

  1. Ashes can be distributed using an individual Q-tip type of cotton swab

For this distribution method, the minister would use an individual cotton swab for each recipient to distribute ashes. With the cotton tip, the minister will trace a cross on the recipient’s forehead. Both the minister and recipient must be properly wearing masks during the distribution. A new Q-tip cotton swab must be used for each person. After the use, each swab will be placed in a receptacle for burning.

Although not a Holy Day of Obligation, Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of great importance to the faithful as they enter the Lenten season. The faithful are reminded that receiving ashes is not required. Parishioners should recognize that their own internal disposition and intention to repent is the importance of Ash Wednesday and that the ashes are an external sign of that internal reality. Individuals who cannot receive ashes can still enter into Lent with a repentant heart.

For a list of scheduled Ash Wednesday services across the 11-counties of the Diocese of Scranton, visit www.dioceseofscranton.org. A complete set of guidelines for Liturgical Celebrations during the Season of Lent can also be found on the Diocesan website.


The Catholic observance of Lent includes days of fast and abstinence. Those 14 and older are obliged to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and on all the Fridays of Lent. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, healthy people ages 18-59 are to fast by limiting themselves to one full meal and two lighter meals. Those with a medical condition that makes fasting inadvisable are not obliged to fast but should perform some other act of penance or charity.


The Sacrament of Reconciliation will remain available to the faithful throughout the Season of Lent.

“The Light is On For You,” an initiative in the Diocese of Scranton in which churches are open for quiet prayer and Confession will continue.

Beginning on Monday, February 22 and every Monday through March 22, confessions will be heard in each parish of the Diocese of Scranton from 5:30 until 7:00 p.m., unless another time is established by the individual parish.

All COVID-19 guidelines for Confessions must be followed, including that both the priest and the penitent must wear masks and celebrate the Sacrament in a space that allows for adequate distance from each other. Parishes have once again been discouraged from hosting large reconciliation services.