Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect indoor mass will be allowed starting Feb. 15 with COVID-19 precautions.
Like nearly everything else since the arrival of COVID-19, Ash Wednesday will be very different this year.
Instead of getting a cross of ashes on their forehead, a masked priest will sprinkle ashes over Tucson Roman Catholics' heads, no human contact allowed. Some parishes may do this at a certain time, others throughout the day.
Indoor mass will be allowed as of Feb. 15, and including on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, with social distancing, mask requirements and maximum capacities at each Catholic church. Ashes can be distributed indoors and outdoors, but will be distributed without physical contact.
Priests will individually decide whether they hold mass indoors, outdoors or virtually and where and when they distribute ashes for parishioners.
Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson is reminding parishioners that “Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation.” But he recognized its an important beginning to Lent.
In a recently published letter titled “Ash Wednesday Protocols,” Weisenburger listed his recommendations for COVID-19 precautions on Ash Wednesday.
“The ashes are to be blessed by the priest and then may simply be sprinkled over the heads of the faithful, preventing physical touch,” the letter says.
Weisenburger also suggests alternative application ideas, like handing out individual cotton balls or cotton swabs, and allowing priests, deacons, or lay ministers to distribute them in parking lots throughout the day to keep people distanced.
“I believe that a live-streamed and/or recorded Mass on Ash Wednesday, for those who do not ordinarily provide such, would be most important for our people,” Weisenburger said.