Pastoral Guidance for Ash Wednesday
January 26, 2021
The Feast of St. Timothy and St. Titus, Companions of St. Paul
Dear Siblings in Christ,
In a few short weeks, the Church throughout the world will once again embark on the journey of reflection, repentance, and renewal that is a part of the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday officially begins this most solemn season where we, as followers of Jesus Christ, prepare for the celebration of Easter by walking through a Holy Lent.
While we continue to live into the reality of a global pandemic, the customary ways of “doing church” have been upended in many ways. We continue to worship in the many diverse and innovative ways that reflect the context of the communities of faith that make up this diocese. While Ash Wednesday 2021 will be unlike any in living memory, we are given an opportunity to engage more deeply with our faith through the liturgical practices that shape our worship.
Below you will find pastoral guidance for the commemoration of Ash Wednesday in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. This guidance offers opportunities for communities of faith to engage with Ash Wednesday during a time of pandemic.
As we embark on this journey through a Holy Lent, we can be assured that we do not travel alone. Like those who have gone before us in faith, we are confident that we walk beside each other following the path of Jesus of Nazareth.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Deon K. Johnson
11th Bishop of Missouri
Pastoral Guidance for the Celebration of Ash Wednesday in the time of Pandemic
The guidance and resources provided here spring from a desire to respond pastorally to the needs of the communities of faith during a time when safely gathering for worship on Ash Wednesday is not possible. All pandemic precautions and limitations for gathering that are currently in place in the Diocese of Missouri must be followed. Particular pastoral consideration should be made for members of communities of faith who have recently lost loved ones or who remain isolated during this time.
Several options are offered in order to reflect the different contexts that make up the Diocese of Missouri. Lay and clergy leaders of communities of faith are encouraged to adapt the guidance offered to best reflects their current ministry context.
According to the Book of Common Prayer, the imposition of ashes is an optional practice for Ash Wednesday. Communities of faith may or may not choose to participate in the act of imposition. Ashes should be burned from last year’s palms or from another source.
- Instructions on the preparation of ashes may be offered to individual members/households of the community of faith. (see liturgy appendix below).
- Ashes may be offered as part of a larger, broadcasted liturgy or privately, at home using the Book of Common Prayer, beginning on page 264.
- Ashes may be offered following a virtual worship.
In preparing your worship service, keep in mind the following:
- The prayer for the blessing of ashes (BCP 265) should be recited by the entire community during virtual worship gatherings.
- The Proper Liturgy of Ash Wednesday must be celebrated prior to the imposition of ashes as part of a drop-in/drive through/pilgrimage/ashes-to-go worship gathering.
- The Presider or assisting ministers must not physically touch the recipient with bare hands.
- The Presider or assisting ministers must use sanitizer before and after distributing ashes, while using no-contact disposable aides as an added precaution.
 Q-tips or cotton balls or other instruments may be used for these purposes.
Recommended, possible practices for Ash Wednesday:
The following practices for the Imposition of Ashes are recommend.
- Ashes may be sprinkled on the recipient’s head or forehead by the presider or assisting ministers. To do this, ashes must be finely ground and very dry, not mixed with water or oil. This may require a larger quantity than is typical, as much as 2-3x the amount of ashes. (We understand that the ashes may fall in many places. Please remember the ashes are not consecrated.)
- Ashes may be prepared and distributed in small containers to participants. Participants self-impose or impose for one another in a household.
- Ashes may be imposed by the presider or assisting ministers by no-contact disposable means (Q-tips or cotton balls may be used for these purposes).
- Instructions may be given to participants in how to burn their own ashes to self-impose or impose for one another in a household.
A brief Ashes-to-go Liturgy
The minister offers a prayer:
Almighty and merciful God, you hate nothing you have made, and forgive the sins of all who are penitent; create in us new and contrite hearts, so that when we turn to you and confess our sins and acknowledge our need, we may receive your full and perfect forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.
Ashes are marked on the forehead with the following words:
Minister Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
The minister then says,
Minister Go in peace. Amen.
A liturgy for the Burning of Palms on Shrove Tuesday
Concerning the Service
The burning of Palms from the previous Passion Sunday is a tradition dating back to the eighth century. In homes and churches, on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, host a “Pancake Supper” or a variation thereof; it is appropriate at such gatherings to burn the palms collected from the members of the congregation. Left over palms can also be used as part of the New Fire at the Easter Vigil.
In preparation for the service, a brazier or other fire proof container should be set up either outside or in a place where the fire and smoke can be contained. A fire extinguisher should be kept nearby. Palms from the previous Passion Sunday will be especially dry and therefore will need very little preparation. The liturgy that follows can be incorporated as part of the Shrove Tuesday festivities.
When the people have gathered around the brazier the Leader begins with a few words as to the purpose and symbol of the palms and the ashes that will be collected. The Liturgy continues as followed.
Leader Satisfy us by your loving-kindness O God.
People That we may rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.
Leader Let us Pray.
Come Holy Spirit, renew the whole creation. Send the wind and flame of your transforming life to lift up the church in this day. Grant that as we kindle these palms that they may be for us a symbol your holy flame, which consume the arrogance and hated that divides your holy people; Give us a vision of your breadth and length and height that will challenge our smallness of heart and bring us humbly together; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The palms are then set alight. A reader reads from the Prophet Isaiah followed by the recitation of a portion of Psalm 90.
A reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah 61:1-3
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
1 Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or the land and the earth were born, from age to age you are God.
3 You turn us back to the dust and say, “Go back, O child of earth.”
4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past and like a watch in the night.
5 You sweep us away like a dream; we fade away suddenly like the grass.
6 In the morning it is green and flourishes; in the evening it is dried up and withered.
12 So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
The service concludes with the following prayer.
Merciful God, who is our salvation and consolation for evermore, send down upon us your Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, the spirit of grace to establish us in the faith, the spirit of prayer to keep us in communion with you, the spirit of power to strengthen us for the good fight, the spirit of peace and hope to preserve our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life eternal. Amen.