Ash Wednesday is around the corner. In the UK’s best Catholic weekly, the Catholic Herald, the lovely and persistent feature-writer Anna Arco has an article with comments about that ash-smudge.
Don’t rub off your ashes, urges bishop
By Anna Arco
Catholics should try not to rub their ashes off after Ash Wednesday Mass, an English bishop has said.
Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton, who heads the department of evangelisation and catechesis, urged Catholics across Britain to wear “the outward sign of our inward sorrow for our sins and for our commitment to Jesus as Our Lord and Saviour”.
He said: “The wearing of the ashes provides us with a wonderful opportunity to share with people how important our faith is to us and to point them to the cross of Christ. I invite you where possible to attend a morning or lunchtime Mass. ["Invite" is the right word, since Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation. Still, I think Catholics do well to make the effort. It is an important enough day in the Church's liturgical calendar that it is the only other day with Good Friday when we must both fast and abstain.]
“Please try not to rub off your ashes as soon as you leave church, but take the sign of the cross to all those that you meet – in your school, office, factory, wherever you may be. This might just make people curious and wonder why you would do this. If you explain about Lent and Easter it might just make them think and may even awaken in them the questions that might lead to faith. Many people have a dim awareness of Lent and even ashes. It would be good to make this clear rather than dim. [Next question. Can you explain Lent and Easter?]
“Don’t underestimate the power of this simple action and wear your ashes as not only a sign of the beginning of your Lenten journey, but also to witness to your greatest treasure in life. This small step could awaken faith in the hearts of many that you meet in a way that words could never do.”
Catholics receive ashes at Mass on Ash Wednesday where they are reminded of their own mortality when the priest says “From ashes to ashes”. [?] The ashes are made from the fronds of palm used on palm Sunday of the previous year.