In a note from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Vatican has given guidance about how priests should distribute ashes on Ash Wednesday amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
Priests are directed to say the formula for distributing the ashes once to everyone present, rather than to each person, and then to take the ashes and sprinkle them on the head of each one without saying anything.
Sprinkling ashes on the top of people’s heads, rather than marking foreheads with ashes, is the more ancient form of administering them, and the customary practice at the Vatican and in Italy and other countries. During the current situation, the practice has the advantage of not requiring the priest to touch multiple people.
In the Roman Missal for Ash Wednesday, it says specifically that “the Priest places ashes on the head of all those present who come to him”, not that they are placed in the form of a Cross or on the forehead.
There is an interesting article on the PrayTell blog about placing ashes on the head – well worth a read as a reflection at the start of our Lenten journey.