March 1, 2021 | Local News

Bishop William F. Medley sprinkles ashes on the head of a young girl during the noon Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Stephen Cathedral on Feb. 17, 2021. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

Fasting ‘wakes us up’ says bishop at Ash Wednesday liturgy

BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC

Even in a time of pandemic, the Church “recognizes that we do need some ‘routine,’” said Bishop William F. Medley in his homily during the Feb. 17, 2021 Ash Wednesday Mass at noon at St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro.

“That’s the purpose of the liturgical year – that we exercise within us all those emotions and spiritual longings,” said Bishop Medley.

Per state and diocesan COVID-19 guidelines for public worship, all attending the Mass were required to wear facial coverings and sit socially-distant. So many people attended the liturgy that the basement of the cathedral was opened for additional distanced seating.

While Deacon Richard Murphy looks on, Bishop William F. Medley blesses the ashes during the noon Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Stephen Cathedral on Feb. 17, 2021. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

The bishop referred to Lent’s traditions of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a “spiritual remedy” to root out inner selfishness and a lack of care for others.

“’Discipline’ and ‘disciple’ come from the same word,” said Bishop Medley, explaining that denying oneself of comforts during Lent can be a reminder of the needs of destitute persons, who never have these comforts, “and they have no choice.”

“Fasting wakes us up,” he said. “It makes us more attentive to God and neighbor.”

The bishop observed that the March 2020 COVID-19 shutdown in western Kentucky lined up closely with the start of Lent 2020.

“And yet here we are: it seems like a Lent that never ended,” he said. “So much for 40 days.”

But it will end eventually, said the bishop.

However, in the meantime, “the routine of our lives still needs to slow down and step back, and perhaps even those things in our lives that have become problematic during the pandemic – this gives us a chance to reset, to see what good can come out of that evil.”

“The pandemic is evil, no question about it,” he added. “But how do people of faith respond to that… not just our own needs but also the needs of others?”

Bishop Medley encouraged the faithful to “observe Lent with as much enthusiasm and grace as we would hope to do, so that it may give us a clearer perspective on this pandemic.”

Ashes were distributed after the homily, as is customary at Ash Wednesday liturgies, but the manner was different this year.

People sit masked and spaced apart for social distancing during the noon Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Stephen Cathedral on Feb. 17, 2021. So many people attended the liturgy that the basement of the cathedral was opened for additional socially-distant seating. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

As a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments had issued an instruction in January that this year, ashes should be sprinkled on top of peoples’ heads instead of traced in crosses on the forehead.

In The Western Kentucky Catholic’s February 2021 issue, Lauren Johnson, the Diocese of Owensboro’s co-coordinator of the Office of Worship, provided some background to this temporary change.

“While the Roman Missal (the large red book that contains the prayers and rubrics for the priest) never indicates that ashes are to be signed on the forehead with the Sign of the Cross (but rather that the priest ‘places ashes on the head,’) this has become a popular custom in English-speaking countries because of the visible sign that is left,” said Johnson in a page 6 article.

“However, sprinkling of ashes on the crown of the head is still used in Italy and other countries around the world,” she said, adding that the regular practice is expected to resume next year. “Until then, may the differences in Ash Wednesday 2021 serve to remind us that it is not what is seen on the outside that counts (like ashes on the forehead), but that we are to humble ourselves and allow Christ to conform us more closely to his Passion, Death, and Resurrection as we prepare for the joy of Easter.”


Originally printed in the March 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

 

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
Contributors |  Riley Greif, Rachel Hall
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