Jesuits in South Africa Provide Guide for Ash Wednesday Celebration “at home, in family”

Catholics who will not be going to Church for the celebration of Ash Wednesday that marks the beginning of Lent have the option of marking the event at home with their family members using a guide that has been developed by members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) at the Jesuit Institute South Africa.

In the guide seen by ACI Africa, the Jesuits note that COVID-19 guidelines by various governments concerning Church services are likely to impact people’s participation in the February 17 event.

“Due to the global pandemic, lockdown and limited numbers allowed to attend services on Ash Wednesday, we offer this service which can be done at home, in your family or those you live with. It is a simple service,” the Jesuits say in a statement circulated Monday, February 15.

In the guide titled, “a Service of the Word and Distribution of Ashes,” family members are also required to prepare the environment for the service of the Word of God by having a nice clear table, a cloth and candle.

“You can put a cross, icon or open Bible on the table,” the Jesuits advise, and add, “Try to ensure that the environment is quiet for the duration of your prayer time.”


Family members are also required to make ashes by burning dry palm branches from last year and to place the ashes in a clean bowl.

Those who do not have palm branches from previous years have a variety of options to obtain ashes, including burning dry leaves from any plant species.

Other options include using any piece of charcoal, the Clerics at the Jesuit Institute South Africa say and add, “If you are not able to access ash, you can still have the service and, at the moment of imposing ash, simply pause in prayer and communion with the whole Church on this Ash Wednesday.”

To avoid physical contact feared to increase the spread of COVID-19, family members are encouraged to sprinkle a pinch of ashes on the crown of the recipient’s head.

“There is to be no physical contact with others,” the Jesuits caution, and explain, “If you are with others, the leader will sprinkle the ash. Once they have done this, they will ask one person to do the same for them. If you are alone, you can sprinkle yourself.”

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In the “Service of the Word and Distribution of Ashes” guide, family members are required to decide on who will lead the service, who will read and which readings they will read.

The service begins by taking a few moments in silence together after which an opening prayer is said.

The payer shared by the Jesuits is, “Let us pray Lord our God. As we begin this season of holy fasting, a time of reflection and Christian service, help us to enter into the spirit of Lent by living simply and seeking your will alone. Through Christ our Lord.”

Families are also invited to read and reflect on the Prophet Joel 2:12-18 after which they proceed with the distribution of the ashes.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.