Church leaders in the Philippines have allowed the putting of ashes on the forehead of the faithful on Ash Wednesday as health restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic were eased on March 1.
In guidelines released last week, the Episcopal Commission on Liturgy of the bishops’ conference said, priests are now allowed to put ashes on the foreheads of churchgoers.
“We will revert to the imposition of ashes on the forehead of the faithful,” read part of the guidelines for the Lenten observance issued by Bishop Victor Bendico, head of the commission.
It said that the sprinkling of ashes on the head, which was practiced in the past two years during the pandemic, will remain an option.
“We have been reminded last year that this option is an opportunity to catechize our people on both the penitential and baptismal characters of the Lenten season,” read the statement.
On Tuesday, the national capital and 38 other areas in the country were placed under Alert Level 1 or what the government considers as the “new normal.”
Under Alert Level 1, establishments and public transportation are allowed to be fully operational.
There are also no restrictions in place on the movement of people from different age groups, though this is subject to specific rules that may vary among local government units.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, however, reminded the public that although the government wanted to usher in a “new normal,” the pandemic is not yet over.
“We are keeping our safeguards so that we still have those protections in case we will see an increase in cases again because the virus is still circulating among us,” she said in a media briefing on Monday.
The Church leaders, meanwhile, assured that they will “abide by the stringent policy of the government on social distancing and the use of face masks during church services” in the Lenten season.
“We continue to sanitize our churches every after liturgical celebrations and provide alcohol for the sanitation of our faithful,” added the statement.
Religious processions during the Holy Week will also be coordinated with local government and village officials, it added.
The bishops also assured to “take great care not to give an opportunity for our faithful to congregate outside their homes.”
Ash Wednesday signifies the start of the Lenten season which is usually marked with fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.
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