VATICAN CITY – In a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19, Pope Francis led the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics into Lent on Ash Wednesday, with a scaled down ritual.
The penitential season usually begins with an outdoor procession between two ancient churches in Rome, instead Francis said a Mass for about 120 people in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Last month the Vatican issued guidelines for Ash Wednesday in the COVID-19 era. They said priests should sprinkle ashes on the head rather than rub them on the forehead, and masks and recite the traditional “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return” once before everyone rather that to each congregant.
The pope himself, however, did not totally apply the new rules, generously dumping ashes on the crown of the heads of some cardinals and patting them down.
During Lent, which ends with Easter, Christians are called on to fast, practice more good deeds, give alms, be close to the needy and suffering, and give up something, such as sweets.
In his sermon, the pope said Lent should be a chance to leave behind “the false security of money and conveniences.. chasing things that are here today and gone tomorrow,” and return to God.