Cardinal Vincent Nichols is urging Catholics to celebrate Ash Wednesday at home this year.
The cardinal is suggesting that members of the household or support bubble bless each other by making a sign of the cross on each other’s forehead.
His invitation comes in a pastoral letter that will be read in the parishes of Westminster at this weekend’s Masses. He notes that Ash Wednesday, which falls on 17th February, marks the beginning a Lent and is “the doorway into this season of renewal”.
“As we cross this threshold we customarily receive ashes on our foreheads, in the sign of the cross. This is a public mark of our turning again to God, seeking his mercy, forgiveness and help,” he says.
“We use these words: ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’. Yes, we cannot pretend otherwise. Or: ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel’. Yes, we seek the one thing that is absolutely necessary: the grace of God.”
However, Cardinal Nichols acknowledges that this year receiving ashes in church is going to be difficult due to Covid-19 restrictions.
He explains that while churches are safe as long as protective measures are being fulfilled, the faithful must remain careful and co-operative. Churches have been asked not to make extra provision for Ash Wednesday, he says.
“Receiving ashes is an outward sign of an inner step, a movement of the heart towards our beloved Lord,” he says. “This year I invite you to concentrate much more on this inner, spiritual movement than on its outward manifestation in the imposition of ashes.
“My suggestion is this: celebrate Ash Wednesday at home, with your family, in the household or ‘support bubble’. Gather for a while. Read the prayer which I offer. Bless each other by making the sign of the cross on each other’s forehead. Spend some time praying in a way that you know. But please, make this a prayer of your heart for God’s mercy upon this world struggling to cope with the terrible pandemic and the devastation it is bringing.”
The prayer is: ‘Lord God, with all our hearts we beseech you: have mercy on your people; spare your people; strengthen all people in the struggle against the havoc of this pandemic. Lord our God, without you we are so weak and our courage so limited.
Give us your strength; give us your love; give us wisdom and skill to continue this fight. Spare your people, O Lord we pray. Comfort those who mourn and gather into your kingdom all who have died.
We make this prayer through Christ our Lord, who died and rose to life, who lives and reigns with you, for ever and ever. Amen.’
The cardinal says people should then bless each other, using one of the two traditional formulas mentioned above before continuing with their own prayers.
“Please do not hesitate, within your household or ‘bubble’, to bless each other on this Ash Wednesday,” he says. “We do well to remember together our need of the good Lord.
“Together, and through each other, He wants to comfort and reassure us of His loving presence. If, on this day, we set aside every pretence that we can do everything of ourselves, then we create in our hearts and lives the space for God’s grace and strength to find a home in us.”
Picture: Cardinal Nichols blesses a member of the faithful on Ash Wednesday in an undated file photo. (Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk).