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COVID-19 changes Ash Wednesday traditions

MARSHALL — Many area residents will be observing Ash Wednesday today. But like many parts of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, religious traditions marking the beginning of Lent may look different this year.

Allowing for social distancing means some local churches will be finding alternative ways to dispense the ashes that give the holiday its name.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of 40 days of prayer and repentance before the celebration of Easter. For some Christian denominations, ashes are traditionally smudged on congregants’ foreheads as a reminder of mortality.

This year, Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Marshall will be making a change to the tradition, to decrease the amount of close contact parishioners have at Ash Wednesday Mass. The Vatican issued guidance to churches to sprinkle ashes on people’s heads instead of marking their foreheads, Holy Redeemer staff said Tuesday.

Like other churches in Minnesota, Holy Redeemer currently has a reduced capacity to allow for social distancing during worship, church staff said. Since the start of the pandemic, Holy Redeemer has been live-streaming Mass for people who aren’t able to attend in person. Ash Wednesday Mass will be both held and streamed at 7 a.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on the church website, holy-redeemer.com. A Spanish Mass and a Mass at the SMSU Campus Religious Center will both be held at 8:30 p.m.

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