No cross on foreheads at local churches this Ash Wednesday

Churchgoers will instead have ashes sprinkled on top of their heads.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Local Catholic Churches are adjusting Ash Wednesday rituals due to the pandemic.

It's traditionally the time of year when believers get a cross of ashes applied to their foreheads, but social distancing restrictions are forcing church leaders to rethink that approach.

Rather than getting the familiar cross of ashes on their foreheads, Roman Catholics and Episcopalians will instead have ashes sprinkled on top of their heads.

"It's very biblical. It is the preferred method in the Old Testament literally, when people would dress in sack cloth and they would cover their head in ashes," said Bishop Joseph Brennan.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno Bishop Joseph Brennan says the recommendations come straight from the Vatican. Sprinkling ashes on the crown of the head avoids any skin-to-skin contact and reduces the chances of transferring the virus.

"There's a little container so the priest or deacon or even minister will take a small pinch of the ashes, literally sprinkle it simply over the head of the person," said Bishop Brennan.

The ashes symbolize repentance and are made from palm leaves that were used in the previous year's Palm Sunday services.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent - a 40-day period devoted to reflection and spiritual preparation before Easter.

Despite this year's changes, Bishop Brennan is encouraging parishioners to attend Wednesday's mass.

"The prayer is the thing, the scriptures are so powerful for that day. We turn to the Lord with your whole heart, that's the very first reading tomorrow."

Most Ash Wednesday services will be held outdoors, with some holding limited capacity inside.

If you can't attend, the Diocese of Fresno along with some churches will live stream online.
Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.