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Ash Wednesday returns to Philippine churches

Tradition of marking foreheads returns after two-year ban as authorities relax Covid-19 rules

Ash Wednesday returns to Philippine churches

A Catholic woman has her forehead applied with ash by a seminarian on the observance of Ash Wednesday at a church in Manila in 2018. (Photo:AFP)

Published: February 28, 2022 07:51 AM GMT

Updated: February 28, 2022 07:56 AM GMT

Priests in the Philippines will be allowed to mark the foreheads of Catholics on Ash Wednesday after lifting a two-year ban on the Lenten tradition due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) made the announcement on Feb. 27 just as the government announced the relaxing of Covid-19 measures in Manila and elsewhere across the country.

On March 2, millions of Catholics are expected to flock to churches once again to celebrate Ash Wednesday and have their foreheads marked with ash crosses to mark the beginning of the Lenten season.

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“We will revert to the imposition of ashes on the forehead of the faithful,” said the bishops in the new Guidelines for Lent and Holy Week this year.

Those uncomfortable with this due to health reasons, however, may still opt for ashes being sprinkled on their head.

“The sprinkling of ashes on the crown will remain an option … this option is an opportunity to catechize our people on both the penitential and baptismal characters of the Lenten season,” the bishops added.

Business owners and event organizers must ensure health measures like proper ventilation, wearing of face masks and handwashing are followed

The prelates also said parishes having difficulty securing old palm branches blessed during the celebration of Palm Sunday in 2020 can use dried leaves of plants or trees burned for this year’s Ash Wednesday.

“Let us ensure that there are enough ministers and ashes as well as compliance of health protocols,” they said.

The Washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday to re-enact the Last Supper has been reduced to not more than 12 people during the liturgy.

“A simplified form of the washing of the feet may be done during this celebration. The number of persons whose feet are to be washed need not be 12. There can be less than 12 but not more than 12,” they said.

Meanwhile, authorities have relaxed restrictions in Manila and 38 other areas from March 1-15 that will also allow churches to admit worshippers numbering not more than 50 percent of their seating capacity.

The move follows a drop in the number of daily Covid infections to an average of 1,400 over the past week compared with 39,000 in mid-January..

Businesses, government agencies and public transport will be allowed to operate at full capacity, presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said.

“Business owners and event organizers must ensure health measures like proper ventilation, wearing of face masks and handwashing are followed,” he said.

However, people with comorbidities like diabetes and heart ailments were still advised to join religious celebrations online, Nograles said.

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