CHICAGO – Ash Wednesday will look a little different for Chicago area Catholics, with new COVID-19 precautions featuring the sprinkling of ashes on the top of the head, a practice that is common in Europe, officials at the Archdiocese of Chicago said in a Friday statement.

Those receiving ashes on Feb. 17 may also have the option of having the ashes placed on their forehead with a non-plastic Q-Tip or cotton ball, officials said. In normal times, ashes are applied by hand to worshipers’ foreheads in the shape of a cross as an outward expression of their faith.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a solemn, 40-day period devoted to prayer, fasting and reflection, and leading up to Easter Sunday. Services will still be held at parishes throughout the archdiocese, officials said, but like regular weekend Masses, visitors must register for the services or Masses on individual parish websites.

Some parishes are only offering ash distribution, and visitors are encouraged to check individual parish websites for times, officials said.

COVID-19 protocols including mask-wearing, social distancing and the using of hand sanitizer will also be required.