Sunday, June 23, 2024

Bishop Gainer to Celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass

Ashes to be distributed in COVID friendly manner

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The holy season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021. Most Rev. Ronald W. Gainer, Bishop of Harrisburg, will celebrate Mass and distribute ashes at noon at the Cathedral Parish of Saint Patrick, 212 State Street, Harrisburg. The Mass will be live streamed on the Diocese of Harrisburg YouTube channel,, for those unable to attend in person.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, clergy will not mark the sign of cross on people’s foreheads with the ashes this year, as is traditionally done. At the direction of the Holy See (i.e. The Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments), ashes will be distributed in the following manner:

  • Clergy will bless the ashes and sprinkle them with Holy Water, then say to all those present, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
  • Those wishing to receive ashes will line up, following social distancing guidelines.
  • Instead of making the sign of the cross on foreheads, clergy will sprinkle the ashes on top of the head.

“The sprinkling of ashes on top of the head is a common practice followed in many parts of the world. This method of distribution will limit the personal contact between our clergy and parishioners, allowing us to maintain worship spaces that are as safe as can be made during this continued time of pandemic,” said Bishop Gainer.

The distribution of ashes is a reminder of our mortality and our need for repentance, as we are accustomed to in the United States. In the Old Testament, ashes were used as a sign of humility and mortality, and as a sign of sorrow and repentance for sin. The ashes are made by burning any remaining blessed palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, which is a 40 day period when Catholics are asked to devote themselves to seeking the Lord in prayer and reading Scripture, to service by giving alms, and to sacrifice through fasting. The season of Lent prepares us for the celebration of Easter and Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It is done in imitation of Jesus Christ who spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying before he began his public ministry.

As a time of abstinence, those Catholics 14 and older are obligated to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent. Additionally, healthy adults ages 18-59 are also asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by only eating one full meal and two smaller meals on those days. Those with a medical condition that makes fasting inadvisable are not obligated to fast, but they should perform another act of penance or charity. Due to abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent, parish Fish Fries are popular events. A listing of Fish Fries throughout the Diocese can be found at More details and resources on Lent are available on the Diocesan website at

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