The faithful will notice some differences in the blessing of throats, distribution of ashes and other Lenten practices this year. The changes are being implemented during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to ensure the safety of both the clergy and faithful.
Many people are accustomed to having their throats blessed individually with crossed candles on Feb. 3, the feast of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr. Bishop Edward Malesic said that because of the pandemic, instead of individual throat blessings, priests in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland may offer a blessing to all assembled by extending their hands -- without the crossed candles -- while saying the prayer of blessing. The blessing of the throats will take place at the livestreamed noon Mass on Feb. 3 in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Many parishes throughout the diocese also offer the blessing.
St. Blaise lived in Turkey and Armenia during the fourth century. He saved a boy who was choking on a fish bone and said those who light a candle in his memory will be free from infection, which is why candles are used in the annual blessing of throats on his feast day. He is one of 14 “Holy Helpers,” saints who are revered as healers.
St. Blaise is the patron saint of throat illnesses, animals, wool combers and wool trading.
Catholics around the world traditionally mark Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent – by attending Mass and receiving consecrated ashes as a symbol of their duty to pray, fast and do charitable works (almsgiving). Ash Wednesday, which is not a holy day of obligation, falls on Feb. 17 this year.
Mass will be celebrated at 7:15 a.m., noon (livestreamed with Bishop Malesic as celebrant) and 7 p.m. that day in the cathedral. Ashes will be distributed during Mass.
However, a new procedure will be used. The priest will bless the ashes with holy water and then only once say one of the formulas from the Roman Missal – either “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
The priest will cleanse his hands, put on his face mask and distribute ashes to the faithful but instead of marking each forehead with a cross, he will sprinkle ashes on the head of each person without saying anything, thus avoiding physical contact.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said this method of distributing ashes is common practice in some other countries, but is not well known in the United States. There is no requirement for anyone to receive ashes.
On Palm Sunday, March 28, palms will be blessed in the usual way and distributed at the end of Mass. Palms may be handed out by ushers who are wearing face masks, or they can be placed on table or in containers where the faithful can take them. People should comply with social distancing guidelines and take palms they have touched.
Also, for those preparing to be received into the Church this year, there will be some changes to the Rite of Election and the scrutinies.
Rather than celebrating the Rite of Elect at the cathedral, it will take place at local parishes this year.
In addition, Bishop Malesic issued a dispensation for those in his pastoral care with regard to the scrutinies, which normally are celebrated on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent for those in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Because of the pandemic, they are obligated to participate in only one scrutiny before celebrating the sacraments.
Preparations are underway to once again offer a Lenten resource page on the diocesan website. More information will be announced soon.