With Ash Wednesday, the day ushering the Lenten season, less than a week away, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a circular on Thursday recommending Catholic churches in the Philippines to refrain from marking the heads of devotees with ash.
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the Lent and will draw millions of Christians across the world, including Catholics, to churches to observe the day. In an attempt to reduce the risk of infections through contact, the CBCP recommended the sprinkling of the blessed ash on the heads of churchgoers instead. The known custom +involves the marking of a cross on one's forehead using the ash.
Not a new practice says the archbishop of Davao
In the circular issued by Romulo Valles, the archbishop of Davao and the president of the CBCP, it was stated that the recommended action was not innovation and was in line with the ancient practice of the Church. "In Baptism, we have been anointed on the crown of the head. The ashes to be imposed on the crown signify our repentance from sin, which has marred the grace of Baptism," said Valles.
Urges precaution on Good Friday
Good Friday marks the end of the Lent, and much like Ash Wednesday, churches across the world will see attendance in large numbers. In order to ensure that no infections spread, the archbishop requested devotees to refrain from touching or kissing the cross of veneration during the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord.
"We strongly recommend also, that the faithful refrain from kissing or touching the cross of veneration. Instead the faithful are requested to genuflect or make a profound bow as they venerate the Cross," said Valles.
Calls for the observance of the lent
Valles called upon Catholics to observe fasting and abstinence, and also practice generosity and charity. Stressing that concern for others' well-being also formed a part of a charity, Valles said, "Our charity is also expressed in our concern for the well-being of our brothers and sisters, thus our utmost care and efforts towards the prevention of the spread of COVID-19."
Korea church case the reason for vigilance?
The circular comes a day after several members who attended service at Shincheonji Church in South Korea tested positive for the COVID-19 infection. A 61-year-old woman was found to be the source of the outbreak and 28 members are confirmed to be infected.
In Singapore, services were suspended at two churches of the Grace Academy of God till February 26 after 22 confirmed cases were traced back to the church by the ministry of health. Though no cases have been linked to them, the Anglican Church and Catholic Church in Hong Kong have suspended services as well.