Church leaders in the Philippines have allowed the putting of ashes on the forehead of the faithful on Ash Wednesday as health restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic were eased on March 1.
In its guidelines for the Lenten observance, the Episcopal Commission on Liturgy of the bishops’ conference said, priests are now allowed to put ashes on the foreheads of churchgoers.
“We will revert to the imposition of ashes on the forehead of the faithful,” read part of the guidelines for the Lenten observance issued by Bishop Victor Bendico, head of the commission.
It said that the sprinkling of ashes on the head, which was practiced in the past two years during the pandemic, will remain an option.
“We have been reminded last year that this option is an opportunity to catechize our people on both the penitential and baptismal characters of the Lenten season,” read the statement.
On Tuesday, the national capital and 38 other areas in the country were placed under Alert Level 1 or what the government considers as the “new normal.”
Under Alert Level 1, establishments and public transportation are allowed to be fully operational.
Prayer for Ukraine
Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines called on the Filipino faithful to fast and pray for an end to the war in Ukraine on Ash Wednesday.
“The Lord Himself taught us that there is no other way to combat the enticements of the devil especially among those who are obsessed with power, wealth and fame, other than prayer, fasting and acts of charity,” said Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, president of the collegial body.
“We also invoke the intercession of the Blessed Mother as we pray that the Lord move the consciences of the Russian people so that they themselves will be able to do the necessary steps in order to pressure their government to stop the war it has started,” he said.
Pope Francis has earlier called for people to mark the beginning of Lent with fasting and prayer for peace.
The Filipino bishops deplored the war in Ukraine and voiced solidarity with the people in the country who “are now asking for prayers.”
“Nobody is happy about war except those in the arms industries who make huge profits and stand to benefit from the disputes among nations,” said Bishop David in a statement.
On Monday, the Philippines supported the United Nations resolution expressing “explicit condemnation” of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The Philippines votes Yes to the UNGA resolution and expresses explicit condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine,” read the Philippines’ statement.
“No one can trust news reports of casualties on either side but 14,000 have been killed since 2014,” it noted.
“In the current fog of lies, we have yet to determine the true casualties on both sides,” read the Philippine statement.
“We strongly urge the cessation of hostilities; but while an offense can be stopped at will the defense cannot rest until the offense stops,” it said.
The country also called for “massive assistance commensurate with the growing humanitarian crisis.”
The Philippine statement stressed that the “principle of sovereignty and the sovereign equality of States is enshrined in the UN Charter.”
“All States enjoy the right to full sovereignty in all their areas of jurisdiction,” it said, adding that the Charter of the UN requires sovereign states “to refrain from the use of force against the political independence and territorial integrity of any state.”
It also condemned the use of “separatism and secession as a weapon of diplomacy for inviting and inflicting terrible cruelties and indiscriminate killings far in excess of that of any other kind of conflict.”
No more restrictions on movement during Lent
There are no more restrictions in place on the movement of people from different age groups in the Philippines during the Lenten season, although this is subject to specific rules that may vary among local government units.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, however, reminded the public that although the government wanted to usher in a “new normal,” the pandemic is not yet over.
“We are keeping our safeguards so that we still have those protections in case we will see an increase in cases again because the virus is still circulating among us,” she said in a media briefing on Monday.
The Church leaders, meanwhile, assured that they will “abide by the stringent policy of the government on social distancing and the use of face masks during church services” in the Lenten season.
“We continue to sanitize our churches every after liturgical celebrations and provide alcohol for the sanitation of our faithful,” added the statement.
Religious processions during the Holy Week will also be coordinated with local government and village officials, it added.
The bishops also assured to “take great care not to give an opportunity for our faithful to congregate outside their homes.”
Ash Wednesday signifies the start of the Lenten season which is usually marked with fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.