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This Ash Wednesday sees sprinkling, not smearing

The Rev. Bryan Stitt sprinkles ashes on a parishioner’s head during an Ash Wednesday service at St. Mary’s Church in Canton Wednesday. (Provided photo — Christopher Lenney, Watertown Daily Times)

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Catholic churches did something different as they observed Ash Wednesday this year — sprinkling rather than smearing.

In lieu of what has become the standard practice of spreading ashes on the foreheads of parishioners — often in the shape of a cross — many churches turned to an even older tradition amid the pandemic: sprinkling the ashes over heads, thus minimizing contact between priests and parishioners.

According to Darcy Fargo, communications director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg, this practice is a biblical one and is the way Ash Wednesday is observed at the Vatican in Rome, Italy.

“All the Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Ogdensburg will be practicing Ash Wednesday that way,” she said. “Obviously, it’s still all COVID-compliant; we have the reduced capacities and social distancing requirements and mask requirements continued through Mass.”

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