Lent Begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17

The following information was excerpted from a Jan. 29 letter to the priests of the archdiocese from Msgr. Joseph P. LaMorte, vicar general and moderator of the curia.


As you know, Ash Wednesday is a day that offers a valuable opportunity to set a tone for the entire season of Lent, as well as to reach out to people, some of whom are usually not often found in our churches. Aware of the considerable interest of the faithful in receiving ashes, every effort must be made through the reading of scripture and the offering of prayers to catechize them on the penitential character of Lent and the value of their Lenten practices. Here are several reminders:

  1. LENTEN FAST AND ABSTINENCE During the season of Lent, the Church urges the faithful to reflect a spirit of penance in their daily lives through performing acts of fast and abstinence.

+Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, and ends on Holy Thursday, April 1.

+Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence. This is a serious matter within Church law.

+Fasting means only one full meal a day may be taken. Two smaller meals can be eaten to maintain physical strength but together they should not equal another full meal in quantity. Snacking between meals is not permitted. Catholics ages 18-59 are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Those who are not specifically obliged to fast are encouraged to join in the discipline of fasting to the extent that they are able.

+Abstinence forbids the eating of meat or poultry. Those who have reached the age of 14 or older are obliged to abstain on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent. Those who are not specifically obliged to abstain from eating meat are urged to join in the discipline of abstaining to the extent that they are able.

+All Fridays of the year are designated as days of penance during which we are encouraged to practice self-denial out of gratitude for the suffering and death Jesus accepted for us.

+The time for fulfilling the Easter Duty extends from the First Sunday of Lent (Feb. 21) to Holy Trinity Sunday (May 30).

  1. DISTRIBUTION OF ASHES should only take place in a church or chapel and during Mass or a Liturgy of the Word. Classrooms and gymnasia ought not be used when a nearby sacred setting is available.
  2. TIME OF EASTER VIGIL The season of Lent culminates with the celebration of the Sacred Triduum of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night, celebrated on Holy Saturday evening, is not to be scheduled before dusk (Roman Missal, Easter Vigil, No. 3, i.e., at least half an hour after sunset). In the Northeast, nightfall will occur at 7:23 this year.
  4. A parish should set a good example for Lenten penance by refraining from socials.
  5. Extended hours for confession, as well as devotions such as the stations of the cross, are encouraged.
  6. Remember Reconciliation Monday on March 29 in cooperation with the dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, with confessions available from 3 to 9 p.m.
  7. Don’t forget our Chrism Mass, Tuesday, March 30, at 4 p.m., at the cathedral.


Due to the pandemic, new variants of the coronavirus and the current increase in infections, all liturgical celebrations must follow established protocols.

ASH WEDNESDAY, FEB. 17 With guidance from the USCCB committee on divine worship, the procedure to be followed within the Archdiocese of New York will be that:

  • The priest will offer the prayer for blessing of ashes;
  • He sprinkles the ashes with holy water without saying anything;
  • He then addresses all those present and only once says the formula as it appears in the Roman Missal, applying it to all in general: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.


  • The priest then cleanses his hands, and puts on a face mask;
  • He invites the faithful, wearing masks to stand side-by-side, two meters apart, before the altar step or altar rail;
  • Immediately after the priest places ashes on the forehead of the person, moving from left to right, without saying anything, he cleans the finger he used with an alcohol sanitizer wipe before placing ashes on the next person;
  • The imposition of ashes should take no longer than a few seconds in front of the priest;
  • Ushers may be needed to maintain physical distancing during the procession for ashes.
  • An entire school or religious education program may not gather in church. Mass attendance, while very much encouraged and expected, should be done by class or grade to mitigate the quarantining mandates. Although classrooms and gymnasia are generally discouraged, they may be an appropriate option for this year only.

In promoting the distribution of ashes, the faithful might be reminded that only those in good health would present themselves. It is suggested that the hours for the distribution of ashes be limited to Mass or a Liturgy of the Word with a definite beginning and end so as not to expose the priest to others for any great length of time.