President Joe Biden issued a statement in honor of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent, recognizing the season of repentance and renewal “in the midst of a painful winter.”
On Wednesday, many churches observed Ash Wednesday, which is centered on remembering one’s own mortality and is often practiced with the imposition of ashes in the shape of a cross on the forehead.
“Today, I join Christians across our country and around the world in observing Ash Wednesday. As we enter into the season of Lent, we know this moment of repentance, reflection, and renewal comes in the midst of a painful winter for our nation and the world,” stated Biden.
Alluding to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Biden said that “we hold every family with an empty place at their table in our hearts.”
“We pray for all those who have fallen on hard times and are worried about what morning will bring,” he continued. “Let us find strength in each other and faith that provides us purpose. And let us look with hope and anticipation toward Easter and brighter days ahead.”
As part of the observance, Biden, a Catholic, was given the ash cross on his forehead by the Rev. Brian O. McDermott at Georgetown University’s Wolfington Hall, reported The Hill.
This year, many churches in the United States who observe Ash Wednesday found themselves having to alter their traditional practices due to the pandemic and recent severe weather.
This included churches holding online services only with mailed out ashes, “drive thru ashes” for commuters, and still others foregoing ashes and simply handing out small crosses instead.
One Lutheran congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota, held a drive-in service where a clergyman administered the rite from car to car, using a long cotton swab that was disposed of each time.
The Roman Catholic Church’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a note in January, detailing how Catholic priests should distribute ashes.
They stated that, in addition to the already established public health guidelines of wearing face masks, priests will state the commonly used declaration “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” before imposing the ashes rather than during and then sprinkle the ashes on each person’s forehead in silence.