DIY method proposed as Ash Wednesday blessings halted by Covid-19

Archbishop says some parishes sending ash to homes and notes Vatican call to sprinkle on head

With Catholic priests unable to mark people’s foreheads with ashes this Wednesday to mark the beginning of Lent due to Covid-19 restrictions, one diocese is offering advice on how to do so at home.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Catholic Primate, said "this year, with the strong 'Stay at Home' message from public health authorities, North and South," it would not be possible for Catholics to gather in churches to receive the ashes, which are normally applied to the forehead in the shape of the sign of the cross on Ash Wednesday.

Public worship has been suspended due to pandemic restrictions but he said “parishes will continue to mark Ash Wednesday using online services over webcam and also by encouraging family prayer services in the home”.

Some parishes, the archbishop said, were “making small envelopes of blessed ashes available for those who will be visiting their parish churches in the early days of Lent for individual prayer when out for their daily exercise”.


DIY guide

Dublin’s Catholic Archdiocese has published a do-it-yourself guide to producing ashes for Ash Wednesday .

Following recent online liturgy discussions with different parishes three main options have been proposed for making the ashes - that people burn last year's palm branch (from Palm Sunday 2020); that they take ashes from an open fire grate in the home; or that they take in some clay from their garden.

It is advised that, having done that, “these are then placed on a dish. At the same moment during the parish online Ash Wednesday celebration are takinig place people can ask the Lord to bless their own offering with holy water”.

Alternatively, the online priest celebrant “can offer a blessing from a distance. If people within a household ‘bubble’ are present, ashes can be freely distributed while observing the sanitising guidelines as usual.”

Relevant text with a detailed formula for the signing of the senses at the moment of the priest's blessing is available on the archdiocese's website, at


Archbishop Martin noted how "even in parts of the world where there are less restrictions on gatherings for worship, the Vatican has asked that ashes would "not be applied to the forehead in the usual manner, but would be sprinkled on the top of people's heads".

He said that “while Ash Wednesday 2021 will be mostly without ashes, families can still pray, fast and be generous this Lent”.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times