New Church of England guidance for Lent, Holy Week and Easter has been issued today, Tuesday, January 19, and contains details on Ash Wednesday, Chrism Services and how palm crosses may be distributed safely.
The full advice including guidance on gatherings, worship and singing can found via our COVID-19 website section here
Central questions and answers are:
Can we use ash on Ash Wednesday?
Yes, with some changes to typical practice. If words are customarily said at the imposition, these words are spoken to the whole congregation before the imposition begins. The minister imposing the ashes should sanitize hands immediately before the imposition of ashes begins. Standing at arm’s length from the recipient and wearing a face mask, the minister sprinkles the ashes on each recipient’s head without touching them or speaking any words. If the minister accidentally touches the recipient, they must sanitize hands again. The temptation should be resisted to use a singleuse implement to apply ash to the forehead. If ash is being produced locally, this should be done in a hygienic manner. Consideration should be given that, on this occasion, the ash will be sprinkled and not daubed: the addition of oil may not be necessary. The imposition of ash in places other than the church or churchyard is not recommended. Ministers may wish to encourage the imposition of ash within households, especially if public worship is not taking place. Instructions for making ash (whether from palm crosses or something else) can be shared with congregations.
Can the Stations of the Cross be used?
If the Stations of the Cross are being prayed in person, people should not gather around the stations, touch them, or walk between stations. Physical distancing must be preserved. It may be helpful to take pictures of the stations which can be shared on a screen or in a handout, whether people are gathered online or in church.
Can palm crosses be distributed?
Yes. If palm crosses are being made locally, this should be done in a hygienic manner. Crosses could be enclosed in sandwich bags or envelopes to avoid too much contact when they are collected or distributed. Households could make their own palm crosses from palm leaves, paper, or some other material following instructions from the Internet. Paper or other crosses could be affixed to windows of homes. Following long precedent, other kinds of natural foliage could also be used instead of palm crosses.
May outdoor services / processions / walks of witness be held?
Whilst services may take place in the churchyard or other premises where services are routinely held, they may not take place in any other outdoor location. Gatherings of more than 2 people for any other purpose are not permitted outdoors. Processions inside the church building are not recommended at this time.
Can the ‘Chrism Mass’ / Distribution of Oils / Renewal of Commitment to Ministry happen this year?
Yes, as long as the guidance for public worship is followed if they are happening in person, including the observance of local limits on attendance. Bishops and cathedrals may wish to find alternative means of renewing commitments and distributing oils, in addition to a service or other gathering online. If oils are distributed, they should be hygienically bottled in advance and handled a minimum number of times.
Can footwashing and the ‘Watch’ (for instance on Maundy Thursday) take place?
Footwashing and similar activities should not be carried out at this time, especially during worship in person. The Watch can take place if this can be done if the guidance on private prayer is followed.
Can we venerate the Cross?
This practice is not recommended if it involves touching: as the Government’s guidance indicates, worshippers ‘should be prevented from touching or kissing objects that are handled communally’.
Can the Easter Candle be marked / carried around?
Yes. A minimum number of people should handle the Easter Candle.
May Easter gardens / flowers be arranged?
Yes, although only one person should work on them at a time.