How COVID-19 is changing Ash Wednesday tradition at Cincinnati churches

Bishop Roger Foys, of the Diocese of Covington, bows before the altar during a previous Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington.

An Ash Wednesday tradition will look different this year at Catholic and some Protestant churches across the Cincinnati region.

But what may appear new is really quite traditional, church officials say.

Those who attend in-person Mass for Ash on Wednesday, Feb. 17, will have the chance to receive a "sprinkling" of ashes at the crown of their head, rather than a smudging of ashes in the shape of a cross.

The pandemic has inspired the change. But the ritual, while new here, isn't really new, says the Rev. Daniel Schomaker, vicar general for the Diocese of Covington and pastor of St. Augustine Parish.

"The practice of 'sprinkling' the ashes is a rather familiar practice in many parts of the world – just not in the U.S.," Schomaker wrote in a piece in the Messenger, the official newspaper of the diocese, on Jan. 29.

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