POLL: ashes

Some people are under the impression that Ash Wednesday is a Holy Day of Obligation.

It is not. 

Still, the inclination toward a feeling of obligation is laudable.

Lent is a very important season in the yearly cycle of a Catholic Christian’s life.

The desire to begin the spiritual war of Lent by marking it with ashes is good.

Nevertheless, people are not obliged to go to Mass on Ash Wednesday nor to receive ashes.

You are not a "bad Catholic" if you don’t go to Mass on Ash Wednesday. 

As a matter of fact, were someone to go and receive ashes because they want to be seen, not in the sense of bearing witness, but in the sense of "See how pious I am"… well… 

His dictis, let’s move to our poll question.  We had a very strong response last time.

Give us your answer and your comments.


Did you get ashes on Ash Wednesday?

  • Yes (85%, 1,262 Votes)
  • No (15%, 224 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,486

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Bobby Bambino says:

    My 15 month old received ashes too!

  2. Frank H says:

    and I had to suffer through that song “Ashes” which makes no sense to me. We aren’t making “an offering of ashes, an offering to you”, are we?

  3. Fr. Charles says:

    Laudable, indeed. I agree. Grace is grace and I pray for everyone on whom I imposed ashes yesterday, especially those I hadn’t ever seen in church before. Sometimes the intense desire of people of “get ashes” is mocked or disregarded, but I think it’s because the day really speaks to the actual existential situation in which many of us find ourselves, as people mired in the misery of our sins and ashamed at not having (yet) lived up to the promises of our baptism.

  4. Helen Donnelly says:

    I too suffered through that “Ashes” song. Absolutely awful. So many other good hymns out there, ya know?

  5. Flambeaux says:

    Yes, but wife and kids did not for purely practical reasons.

  6. Joy says:

    Wanted to get ashes, but for the first time in years I had to work. Hospital hours…7am to 7:30 pm. My first offering for Lent!

  7. Lee says:

    I’ve always looked forward to Ash Wednesday as a day when I can confess my faith publicly. It’s unmistakably evangelical.

    Father, you write, “As a matter of fact, were someone to go and receive ashes because they want to be seen, not in the sense of bearing witness, but in the sense of “See how pious I am”… well… ”

    It seems to me the same sort of thing applies to making the sign of the cross and saying grace in restaurants, or to saying the rosary in public, the rosary dangling from our fingers. These are very Catholic, sacramental ways of bearing witness.

    Often I hear sermons about the need to evangelize, but a subset of that -which practically anyone can do- is to confess the faith in this sacramental manner, and to make the Catholic, christian presence known.

    “Confess the Faith!” I wish this were the motto of an entire year, as this year is dedicated to St. Paul.

  8. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: It might have been interesting if your question had distinguished between ashes received from a cleric and those received from a layman.

  9. Nicola C says:

    I took my two smaller ones with me yesterday, the oldest had a large amount of homework he was stressing over so I let him stay home to work on it. My smaller ones had made their first confessions on Tuesday so it had an added meaning to them.

    We sat near the front, and hearing Father and the Deacon repeating \”Repent and believe in the Gospel\” over and over as the congregation came up to receive ashes was very profound for me. It really hammered home for me that as sinners this is something we need to do over and over again.

  10. Jenny says:

    We received ashes yesterday from the priest. He had an interesting practice. With all the adults he said “Turn away from sin and believe the Gospel,” but with the young children he said “Remember you are dust and into dust you shall return.” The age of reason seemed to dictate which formula he used.

  11. Mitchell NY says:

    I was the last one to receive them in the sacristy after a 6 block run. The two boys in front of me were turned away and told there was no more ash to give. I went up and pleaded for a blessing and Father scraped the side of the cup and found plenty more to give. It was too late for the two who had been in front of me. Shouldn’t they have had the blessing anyway even if no ash was available, with Holy Water even? It just seemed odd to turn people away…

  12. Mark says:

    I received the ashes twice yesterday, not because of a desire to be seen (;p), but because I served in two Masses yesterday.

  13. After an event yesterday I was struck by something. My daughter attends Catholic school and was told that it was disrespectful to remove the ashes by her misguided, yet well intentioned, teacher.

    I recognize that Ash Wednesday is a venerable tradition in the West, but is it not somewhat ironic that the Gospel reading for the day mentions our Lord saying explicitly that we should keep our faces clean and washed when we fast? And yet, how many make it a point to maintain the ashes on their head while going shopping, to work, etc etc? To do so appears to be a blatant – but not deliberate, I’m sure – contradiction of Christ’s teaching.

    So the issue is not the “blessing with ash” per se, but rather wearing ashes in public as a sign of fasting. Any thoughts on such an apparent contradiction? Has this been addressed anywhere before?

  14. B Knotts says:

    I received ashes yesterday (I was ushered to an EMHC who imposed them), along with my two children, at a parish I do not normally attend, because it was the only practical place near my office and at a time at which I could attend.

    Ash Wednesday is important to me, because it is a very physical reminder of our entry into the Lenten season. Unfortunately, it is always a bit of a struggle to find a reverent Mass outside of my parish, which is by no means ultra-traditional. I can\’t go there for Ash Wednesday, because is too far out of the way for me on weekdays.

  15. John P says:

    Yes, Father, I did, in fact, receive ashes yesterday. My parents always remind me that it is not a holy day of obligation, but I always attend Mass anyway. I was at the 6:30AM Mass, so thankfully, I did not have to endure the awful music that usually accompanies Ash Wednesday Masses.

  16. Brendan says:

    Here at my college, we had somewhere between 250-300 people go to Mass on Ash Wednesday. Compare that to a Sunday Mass, which has around 160 people, and a normal Wednesday Mass, which has around 10-15 people, and a Holy Day of Obligation, which usually has around 80 people.

    I know, it’s great that people come to Ash Wednesday Mass, but I can’t help but feel that there are more people that come because they want to show off their ashes, or it would be embarrassing if they didn’t get ashes.

    A Holy Day of Obligation that falls on a Wednesday, for which attendance is binding under penalty of sin, has 80 people, but Ash Wednesday has 300 people. Something’s not right here.

  17. T. Falter says:

    An amusing story: One Ash Wednesday, a colleague of mine at first thought that I had styled my hair with a curly cue on the forehead, a la Clark Kent (I have very dark hair). It did lead to a “evangelistic moment.”

    For the sake of our kids we go out of our way to get to Mass on Ash Wednesday. They would be upset if we missed it. It’s another small but important tradition that will, God willing, help keep them Catholic.

  18. Ruben says:

    Providentially, five members of my family, including me, were sworn in at a court hearing yesterday after having received ashes that morning. Talk about giving testimony.

    The day was penitential in more ways than one as well.

  19. Sandra in Severn says:

    I did not get out to a Mass, but DD received ashes when someone from a parish near where she works (an assisted care facility) came in and distributed ashes to residents and staff that wished them.

    DH forgot all about it, and I was distracted from doing household chores that I lost track of time and missed my parish’s Mass for Ash Wednesday.

    We all did fast yesterday and spent part of the evening in prayer.

  20. PB says:

    Fr. Deacon Daniel – I don’t think wearing the ashes in public, in itself, contradicts our Lord’s mandate. As Fr. Z said, many people view it as a form of quiet and humble witness. The problem is when we do it with the intention of showing off.

  21. Laura Lowder says:

    I didn’t make it to Mass yesterday. I was at home with ice on both knees.

    What has long distressed me is that people turn out in droves for their ashes, but they are careless about honoring Holy Days of Obligation.

  22. PB,

    I certainly am not assuming a prideful intention on the part of people who do so. I’m all for being explicit with our faith! I’m sure for some, they see it as a way to identify themselves as penitents and sinners. It is also probably a conversation starter about matters of faith in the office, the shopping mall, etc etc.

    But all that aside, it still seems to be an explicit contradiction of the Gospel teaching about our appearance when fasting. I’m having a difficult time reconciling the two practices (again, not the blessing with ashes per se, but the wearing of them in public).

  23. Kathy says:

    I saw something for the first time yesterday. After the ashes were distributed, two of the EMHC who had helped, stayed near the back doors and caught everyone who came in late and gave them ashes too. They did this right up until Communion time. I guess it was good that everyone who wanted ashes got them, but I thought it was kind of strange.

  24. James says:

    Better question.

    What form did the priest use?

    “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or

    “Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return”

  25. Joanne says:

    “Hospital hours…7am to 7:30 pm.”

    I’m a nurse and worked those hours too yesterday. Fortunately, though, one of the priest-chaplains at our (non-Catholic) hospital came to the floor to do ashes for staff and patients. Then in the afternoon, a Eucharistic Minister came with Communion. (We have a Eucharistic Minister almost everyday, which is of course a great blessing.)

  26. Jayna says:

    “I too suffered through that “Ashes” song. Absolutely awful. So many other good hymns out there, ya know?”

    While it’s good to know I wasn’t alone in my suffering yesterday, it’s disheartening that so many parishes inflicted that song on their congregants. Calling it a banality is an understatement.

    I went, obviously. My sister went along as well, she’s one of those who doesn’t go to Mass practically at all the rest of the year, but always seems to make it out for Ash Wednesday. I fail to comprehend the point.

  27. Brian Day says:

    Henry Edwards said in part: …if your question had distinguished between ashes received from a cleric and those received from a layman.

    I did get ashes at my parish’s 5:30pm Mass. The Church holds 1500 and it was standing room only. There were morning Masses and after the 5:30 Mass there were Masses scheduled for 7:00 & 8:30PM.

    With 2 priests and 10 EMHCs it took a full 15 minutes to distribute ashes. I’d hate to think how long it would take if all four of our priests distributed only, given the time restraints for the next Mass.

    My humble opinion is that ashes are ashes are ashes. It does not make a difference between being administered by a cleric or EMHC.

  28. Sean says:

    Father Z,

    Is there a “traditional” way for priests to clean their thumbs after putting ashes on folks? At our parish yesterday the priests just slapped a container of baby wipes on the altar and wiped off their thumbs–seemed a bit undignified.

  29. Prof. Basto says:

    It may not a holyday of obligation in the universal calendar, but it is a quasi-civil holiday in my country (banks only open part time; most Courts don’t open as if it was a Saturday or a Sunday; my law firm was also closed, as were several business offices; a general leave of absence is granted to all State public officials except essential personnell (police, hospital workers, etc).

    Thus, there is no reason not to go. Indeed, I even suspect that it is a holiday of obligation in the local calendar. But even if it isn’t. The State provides a quasi-holiday because it is Ash Wednsday, then, there is no excuse not to go.

  30. Prof. Basto says:

    Brian Day reports above that, in his Church, EMHC imposed the ashes. Can they do that given that they are not clerics and that the imposition of ashes amount to a sacramental?

    (Oh, yes, I know, the Eucharist is a Sacrament, which is more then a sacramental, it is The Sacrament Most Holy, but it is confected by the priest and only delievered by the EMHC when one is used; the “confection” of the sacramental of imposition of ashes, however, is only completed by the act of imposition, if I’m not mistaken).

    In my parish Church, EMHC were employed, alongside the two concelebrating priests, to deliver the Eucharistic Communion, but only the two priests took part in the act of imposing the ashes.

  31. Dr. Eric says:

    I find it ironic that Ash Wednesday seems to be the third largest day for attendance at Mass (after Christmas and Easter) and it isn’t a Holiday or Holy Day of Obligation.

  32. Paul Haley says:

    Ashes are a sacramental which gives grace according to the devotion of the recipient. So, we went to chapel yesterday not ought of obligation but out of devotion. Should not this always be the motive for attendance at chapel? Methinks so.

    However, it is also understood that there are some who cannot attend due to obligation towards their families or others who depend on them. I am sure, that Our Lord sees their desire in private and will reward them in private.

  33. PNP, OP says:

    The friars here at Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma celebrated Mass and distributed ashes. We rec’d them in the Roman fashion, i,e. smudged on the crown of the head. I washed mine off right after in obedience to our Lord’s admonition in the gospel reading regarding public displays of fasting, “Wash your face!” Now, anyone who thinks I am failing to witness to the faith by not wearing the ashes all day has never seen all 6’1″, 320lbs of me in a full Dominican habit! :-) Can’t miss that schooner sail on a Roman street! Fr. Philip, OP

  34. Irish says:

    I received my ashes at a low mass during the lunch hour. Then off to a local restaurant for an amazing fried filet of sole sandwich with homemade tartar sauce and cole slaw for the day’s big meal. There was a surprisingly large turnout for the noontime mass with lots of kids. Father was by himself and it took awhile, but it was worth it.

  35. Stephanie L says:

    I did receive ashes from our parish priest. In fact , he offered the congregation to do it the “old way”, that is in latin, for those who give him a sign. The English blessing he said very quietly, but when he said the Latin he really belted it out, so that it was enough for the whole congregation.
    I am the type of person who needs the signs the Church offers, to really enter into this lenten journey with gusto. It is almost like making a formal commitment…

  36. mary martha says:

    No ashes for me. I figure I go to Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation… I can leave my pew open for those who come only on Ash Wednesday.

  37. Rob in Maine says:

    Yes, I received Ashes, then went right out and committed a mortal sin. Seeing the ashes on my forehead in the bathroom mirror last night really hit home. How Thankful to God I am to work in a Catholic Hospital and can ask for Sacramental Confession and absolution any day (and thank you Fr Z for your 20 point guide to confession! I reviewed that this morning first thing).

  38. Kevin says:

    Our eight children who still live at home, and I, did receive ashes. Our oldest daughter was in labor at the hospital, so my wife was with her and her husband. When we got to the hospital, they all had received ashes, too! A wonderful deacon at the (Catholic) hospital had been there earlier that morning. That afternoon, she delivered a healthy, beautiful baby girl.

  39. Rachel says:

    I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go to Mass on Ash Wednesday but I was able to get out of work early to go to a 7:00 pm Mass at the largest parish in the diocese with my husband. This parish has a very large parking lot and every single space was filled. It was standing room only when we got there. In fact, the people had to also go to the chapel since there wasn’t enough room in the main nave. For a penitential Mass, they had all the fanfare of easter morning..big band, choir, trumpets. My husband and I gave each other strange looks at times and the fella we were sitting next to was carrying on a conversation with the other people in the pew, oblivious to what was going on. It was very distracting.

    Yes, the priest did say “remember thou art dust and to dust thou shall return” and yes, we heard that terrible, awful song called “ashes”. My husband pointed out that that was the ONLY song that we heard that had ANYTHING to do with Ash Wednesday. The other songs were not suitable at all for it. After the Mass, while most of the people were talking to each other in the main nave and father was shaking hands and laughing with the choir, we knelt to pray our rosary but I had to raise my voice to pray it :(. Sad. Oh well, it was a penance just to go I guess.
    I have been going to Ash Wednesday mass for about 10 years so it just didn’t feel right for me not to go and my husband wanted to go if we got the chance.

  40. Jimbo says:

    Yes, I and the family received ashes. In the spirit of “can’t please all the people all the time” I submit that my parish did not sing “Ashes.” That in itself is a blessing, but what replaced it was a curse disguised as a blessing. We sang “Parce Domine” in Latin. Great idea, poor execution. Our music director likes to turn the volume up on the organ until the pews are vibrating. That wasn’t bad enough, but he played it so slowly that it was a torment. Ever get stuck walking behind someone who doesn’t know where they’re going and it seems like every step they take is slower than the one before until you’re sure that soon they’ll just sort of fall over or actually start walking INTO the floor? Thats how the hymn was executed. I wanted to jump for joy when I saw the song would be sung. Then when it was I wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and hum until I couldn’t hear anything else.

  41. Pamela says:

    Yes, but only so my kids could experience the Tradition. Although I wish I understood why we read the in the Gospel

    “When you fast,
    do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
    They neglect their appearance,
    so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
    Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
    But when you fast,
    anoint your head and wash your face,
    so that you may not appear to be fasting,”

    But then we go and do the opposite??

  42. Dominic H says:

    Yes, at a beautiful and reverent TLM in the City of London

  43. Cortney says:

    I very much wanted to receive ashes, especially since our parish was having a TLM, but I was home ill with the flu. I struggled with feeling guilty, then I tried to allow reason to overcome my guilt. A lovely third order woman once told me that we can use our disappointments and our “non-attendings” at Mass (due to illness) as offerings too. This offering up is one of the many wonderful things about Catholicism. How fortunate we are.

  44. Veritas says:

    For the first time, Ash Wednesday didn’t feel like it just crept up on me out of nowhere. The previous 3 Sundays I attended EF Mass and thus had the benefit of septuagesima, sexagesima, and quinquagesima followed by an EF Mass for Ash Wednesday. What a difference! And no “Ashes” song, perhaps for the first time in, well, my LIFE. :)

  45. Karen Russell says:

    My parish only offered an evening Mass this year and as I knew I couldn’t make that, I went at noon at the Basilica downtown.

    The church was full–not quite “standing room only” but getting up there. Mostly, I suspect, people on their lunch break from work. Two priests, a deacon, and several EMHC’s and it still took a significant chunk of time to give out the ashes. No choir and no music and hence no “Ashes” (big grin for that!) I found the absence of music very restful. And I can’t remember the last time I heard the antiphons read out loud!

    And yes, I positioned myself strategically on the way in, so that I would end up in the priest’s line for both ashes and communion. And he used the “remember that thou art dust” formula.

  46. Cortney says:

    For Rob in Maine,

    Thank you for leading me to look at Fr. Z’s 20 points for a good confession. I might also suggest a great book, “Pardon and Peace” by Alfred Wilson, C. P., available from Roman Catholic Books (BooksforCatholics.com). It was written in 1946 so all the pre-Vatican II teachings and traditions are in place. It has a wonderful discussion of conscience and the formation of the same.

  47. Antoine says:

    I work for a printer and very often end the day with some color of ink or grease on my face. And do you think any good soul would point that out to me? Negative. But yesterday EVERYBODY wanted to be the Good Samaritan and tried to wipe off that great symbol of our Salvation from my forehead. Amazing how the level of ignorance of all things Christian brings in its’ wake an increase of disgust and contempt for those who wish to follow The Good Sheperd. Sweet Jesus
    keep us Faithful!

  48. Rose in NE says:

    Yes, received ashes and went to confession—now I’m ready for my 40 day Lenten retreat.

  49. Corleone says:

    Father, congratulations on the high number of participants in your poll! That really says something.

    I hope you will indulge me this Lenten offering:

    3 years ago I was in NYC on Ash Wednesday working non-stop on Wallstreet with a half-Jewish/half-Episcopalian colleague of mine. Around 5pm I was told we would be shortly heading to dinner with some banking clients, to which I said I would need to take a quick 30 minute break (the first one of the day) before we left. I quickly went down to St Patrick’s Cathedral just in time to get the ashes, and returned back to the office to the utter horror of my colleague who whined (yes, he whines) “Are you serious? Don’t you realise most of the banks around here are run by Jews?” (his words, not mine). I replied, “And? I don’t see the difference between a Jewish person walking around with a yarmulke and a Catholic person with ashes on his face.” We had a heated exchange for about 5 minutes, when he exasperatedly just shook his head and said, “Let’s just go then. We’re going to be late at it is.” When we got to the restaurant, the banking clients were already seated and waiting…(punchline coming) and 2 out of the 5 had ashes on their faces. The other three were in fact Jewish, and they could not have been MORE accomodating and “cool” with it. One woman went out of her way each time the waiter came by to reiterate that “we have three people here who can’t eat meat today. Got it? No meat anywhere on their plates.” I felt like kissing her.

    I guess the point I am making is that getting the ashes is a humbling experience in that you are wearing your soul on your sleave for that day as it were. It’s not like wearing a T-shirt that says, “Catholics are #1!” but rather, I am a lowly sinner and am humbly being called to follow the gospel. And my experience is that most people tend to respect that.

    As an aside, here in Italy they take the gospel passage rather literally and don’t put the ashes on your face, as that is an outward sign of penitence. Instead they pour the ashes on your head/hair, which I really HATE.

  50. Tina says:

    I was talking with my priest about Ash Wednesday because I wasn’t sure if I could make it to Mass and he was trying to console me that it wasn’t a Holy Day of Obligation. He said that people would stop coming if they made it a Holy Day of Obligation….

    I didn’t make it to Mass, for insignificant reasons. I did feel guilty everytime I saw somebody with ashes though….

  51. Evelyn says:

    I did go and receive ashes. It was funny to see who was more generous in distributing–after church it was easy to pick out who had been in the deacon’s line; their big black smudges would certainly last all day!

  52. Jess says:

    I went before work at 8am (thankfully, no music) and Father did a very good job; the ashes stayed on my forehead all day until I washed my face around 11pm. A couple of my colleagues saw me and asked if I knew where they could get ashes. It definitely was a good opportunity to witness.

  53. Erin says:

    To those wondering if laymen may distribute ashes, according to the Book of Blessings, yes (in the US). The blessing of the ashes must be done by a priest.


  54. Erin says:

    Sorry, I should also add that this is permitted by the Code of Canon Law 1168.

  55. Gloria says:

    Pamela, I think the admonition in Matthew by Our Lord applies to our pridefulness in any case. However, since Christ was alive, preaching, and there was no Ash Wednesday or Lent to be observed yet, it seems to me that we’re confusing the issues.

  56. KK says:

    Yes I received ashes. First time at an EF Ash Wednesday. First time I’ve not been forced to listen to “Ashes”. First time my ashes resembled a cross and not a smudge. Perhaps we can have a poll asking how many had to listen to “Ashes.”

  57. Karen says:

    I did receive ashes. I work for the State of MN – and I was the ONLY one with ashes on my forehead. Only one person made a comment. She said, “I see you have been to church”. I focused on the eyes of the person looking at my ashes, which was quite humerous. They would look at my ashes, twitch their mouth as if to smile or not to smile and say, “hi”. At one point, I begain to get uncomfortable and decided this was an outward sign of Jesus and his Church, the least I could do.

  58. supertradmom says:

    An edifying moment at our church last night was the presence of over 100 local university students who came to the seven o’clock Mass. I asked one student if they had had Mass at the Newman Center. She answered that the priest only distributed ashes without Mass earlier in the day, and that all those students present wanted to attend Mass as well as receive the ashes. Wow!

  59. Ben Trovato says:

    Yes – I even managed to have my ashes imposed by the presiding priest rather than any of the extraordinary ministers of ashes…

    Alas we sang Let all mortal flesh keep silence…. One fo my favourite hymns, but we the last verse was sung, containing no fewer than three Alleluias – on Ash Wednesday! Who are these people? (and this was at a cathedral!)

  60. Joan Moore says:

    These young ladies received very definite, large crosses on their foreheads!


  61. jef says:

    in relation to the question about which form was used

    “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return”

    The Priest at my parish Church used the Phrase “repent and be faihful to Jesus” is that ok?

  62. Jim says:

    We had two priests. Both used the traditional form of words. Unto dust I shall return.

  63. RBrown says:


    Excellent story. I have lots of friends who are Jews, and they are much more appreciative of the practice of Catholicism than are the Protestants.

    Protestants don’t have a clue (and I was from an Episcopalian family).

  64. Joanne says:

    “you are wearing your soul on your sleave for that day”

    I like this feeling too. I wear a celtic cross and a little Marian medal, alternating sometimes with a St. Brigid’s cross and trinity knot pendant, but ashes are more visible – I love having a sign of my faith physically on me for people to see. And I like seeing everyone else with ashes, too. It’s a nice feeling of having something important in common with other people. (Having said that, I was surprised that several of the people I saw with ashes I believe to be non-practicing Catholics. Kind of strange, I guess, like when people who don’t go to church still abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays of Lent. Not sure what drives this – people still want to practice some of the customs of the faith without making the more difficult commitments?) At any rate, I like having ashes on my forehead because I like showing the world Whom I belong to.

  65. Charles R. Williams says:

    Great Lent begins for Byzantine Catholics on Monday. We do not serve the Divine Liturgy on weekdays in Lent but on Wednesday and Friday evenings there is a communion service combined with Vespers called the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. The music is distinctive and, unlike Sunday when tradition discourages kneeling, there is extensive kneeling and prostrations. The prayers and the propers are focused on the meaning of Lent.

  66. I did received ashes – placed on my forehead by the lay person next to me in my pew, after which I had to give them to the person on my other side :-( Oh well, at least our holy water fonts are full this year. Progress, even if in baby steps…

  67. sean says:

    I got my ashes at one of the 7 masses we had at my college campus (we only have 5 on Sundays).

    though I can only speak for the Mass I attended, it seemed like there was a wonderful turnout. The Mass I was at was at standing room only.

  68. in forma extraordinaria!

    Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et púlverum revertéris.

  69. James says:

    I went to a different parish then normal. During the Homily the priest said we probably don’t need to worry about reconciling with God if we feel like he loves us, the more important thing is to reconcile with our neighbors. He then had instructed the congregation to stand before the final doxology. With many liturgical abuses to boot. But we were told as we recieved the ashes to “repent and turn toward the Gospel.” I thought the homily and the formula at the imposition of ashes were conflicting but I figured because the priest and 10 women running around the sanctuary said this was right it must be…

    I had forgot what it was like to be a parish where the priest was not in charge and you could see that. The Liturgy Coordinators ladies were obviously in charge, but atleast they didnt come up by the altar any time during the Cannon. Better then what i’ve seen other places like that.

    But my fiance learned from that Mass why it is so important to fight for tradition.

  70. ssoldie says:

    Have always gone to Mass on ash wednesday, because it is such an important day, However Father forgot to bring the ashes, so what,we laughed about it, Fr is 88, and we were there to pray the Mass on this most important day.

  71. Immaculatae says:

    Frank H,Jayna, we too had to suffer through the song about Ashes. If we ignored the music though – the Mass was beautiful and happily offered for our Holy Father in response to his request for prayer.

    So I ignored the music. O wish it was that easy each Sunday to ignore the music until real music comes to us.

  72. One of our choir members arrived too late to receive her ashes. After Mass, since I am an EMHC (and the priest was no longer available), I took her into the sacristy and marked her with ashes, saying the appropriate words. She was grateful that someone cared enough to see that she received ashes.

    Another choir member with two sick children at home asked if she could take ashes to them since they were very disappointed not to be able to receive them. I gave her some ashes to take to them.

    As to Fr. Deacon’s comment about wearing the ashes in public: When I was growing up, we were encouraged to leave the ashes on our foreheads for as long as possible. That we should not be ashamed to wear them where others could see them, even if people we came in contact with thought we were silly to walk around with ashes on our foreheads.

  73. Jane says:

    One year I had an embarrassing “ashes” moment. I went to the Ash Wednesday morning Mass and received the ashes and then, after Mass without thinking I rushed to a doctors appointment. The doctor started looking at me in a strange way. I felt very uncomfortable and finally he asked. “Did you wash today?”. It then became apparent to me that I was displaying my ashes. I fumbled my way through an explanation of Ash Wednesday.

  74. English Catholic says:

    It has always amazed me that Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation. I certainly don’t get the ashes to vaunt my piety (such as it is), but I do welcome the chance to wear a sign that, sadly in Europe today, is deeply counter-cultural. It always provokes a lot of genuine questions, so is a perfect chance to talk about, and remind others, of the faith, without imposing on others. I always find that people are more receptive when they are the ones doing the asking…

  75. Standing Maryanna wrote: “When I was growing up, we were encouraged to leave the ashes on our foreheads for as long as possible. That we should not be ashamed to wear them where others could see them, even if people we came in contact with thought we were silly to walk around with ashes on our foreheads.”


    As I said, I think that the motivations that most people have in wearing the ashes are noble. Certainly such a thing is a proclamation of being a sinner and a penitent before God, and the saving sign of the Cross, given to you with Holy Chrism, which marks you as a Christian. It is a reminder of your burial with Christ in Baptism and the hope of your Resurrection in Him.

    So the sign itself is not at issue for me. Nor is the use of ashes – certainly public repentance, sackcloth and ashes, are part of our patrimony in ancient Israel.

    But I keep coming back to the words of the Gospel: “When you fast…”

    Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

    Now I suppose an argument could be made that what is clearly proscribed here is prayer, almsgiving and fasting “so that they may be seen by others,” which speaks to the importance of a good intention mentioned by Father Z. Jesus, for instance, is not telling these faithful Israelites NOT to pray in synagogues either, but rather not to do so so that one is seen by others. Too rigid an interpretation here would preclude the Church from doing ANYTHING public in a liturgical sense, such as processions with the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Icons on the streets…or even the wearing of any distinctive clerical clothing!

    But clearly Jesus does say that we should keep our hair groomed and our faces clean to maintain the secret of our fasting. Ashes are also a sign of the beginning of this period of fasting as penitents. Does not wearing ashes outside of church in the marketplace and the public square potentially violate both the letter and the spirit of this teaching? Please pardon the somewhat rabbinical nature of my questioning here, but I do not think that Our Lord’s teaching – especially one proclaimed on this very day – can be simply “spiritualized” away.

  76. I will also only add that those who for the sake of vanity related to their appearance remove the ashes in a sense “keep the letter but kill the spirit” of our Lord’s teaching. It would seem that the heart of it all is humility, and any act done out of vanity does not keep the authentic spirit of the Fast.

  77. Thanks for your response, Fr. Deacon Daniel… I do agree with the scripture passage about fasting. In fact, the things that I am “giving up” or “doing” for Lent are things that won’t be noticed by other people except perhaps my family; and even then, only if necessary. :)

    The nuns who taught me as a child knew we lived in an area of the country that had few Catholics at that time. Sometimes Catholics were made to feel inferior and were made fun of. So, to leave the ashes on our foreheads was, in a sense, a penance that we could offer God. That we should be unafraid if people taunted us. Of course, this explanation makes it sound worse than it was… Now, there are many more Catholics here and noone is giving that advice any longer; but old habits and “penances” die hard…

    Anyway, the scripture about the kind of fasting God wanted, was not mentioned much at that time… Today’s Isaiah reading (OF), is also a wonderful example of what God expects from us when we fast… :)

  78. Mitch_WA says:

    Fr. Deacon Daniel:

    To me the ashes are not a sign of our fast, even if fasting was not required on ash wednesday the distribution of ashs would still be a popular and pious observance (imho). To me the fact that the fasting lines up with the ashes isn’t important, what is important is the meaning of the ashes, why they are recieved. That is, to mark our mortality, to show that this is all we will be without the grace of God. It is a sign, and a catalyst for why we need lent, why we need to turn towards the Lord. It should not be seen as a sign of our fasting, but rather a catalyst to fasting. I caught a bit of the papal ash wednesday celebration and I thought it was interesting to note that they did not put the ashes on their foreheads in a cross, but rather it was sprinkled on the crown of their heads. interesting…
    That aside, if you view ashes as a mark of fasting then I would have to agree with you Fr. Dcn. but if you view the ashes as a catalyst to rely on God even more by reminding us of our mortality and dependence on God then I see nothing wrong with it. Symbol of fasting or symbol of the reason why we need to fast and rely on God.

  79. Maryanna,

    I think the aspect of witness is an important one, and what you share about the hidden nature of your mortifications is clearly the right spirit of the Fast!


    Your point about the nature of the sign is pivotal in some respects. Perhaps there is an explanation available somewhere?

    I will say, though, that it would be difficult to divorce the association of the ashes with the Lenten period of fasting since it occurs on the very day the Fast begins!

    The practice you mention – placing ashes on the head, as opposed to the forehead, is an interesting one. Is that something new?

    God bless and happy fasting!

  80. elliot says:

    We had a beautiful Missa Cantata(TLM) in Bad Reichenhall, Germany. Before mass, Father blessed and distributed ashes to everyone…even the small children that were in attendance. Although the mass was early(8:00am), we had a pretty good turn out and the end of mass the Parce Domine was sung…nice!

  81. Mitch_WA says:

    Fr. Deacon:


    Here are some articles on the Ashes. What I gather from them is the tradition of ash wednesday grew out of the rite of penitents from the early church. The ashes were to be a symbol of the pennance they needed to do, to mark they had sin and neeeded to return to God. To me it seems like it was always ment to be a catalyst to inspire us to live the Lenten fast. But you could definetly take it a different way.

    I would agree with you that it is hard to divorce the too. And in many many peoples minds I’m sure they see the ashes as a symbol of thier fasting and pennance. However it really should be seen as a sign of our mortality and our need to repent, not of the repentence itself.

    From what I gather the sprinkling of ashes on the top of the head is a practice in Latin countries and the placing of ashes on the forehead is more of a northern european thing. But I dunno.

  82. KBW says:

    No ashes this year — anointed on Pure Monday as we now attend Byzantine.

  83. KBW,

    Glory to Jesus Christ!

    A blessed fast to you and welcome to the world of Byzantium!

    Fr. Deacon

  84. supertradmom says:


    Where do you attend Mass? Sounds like Heaven. We travel a hour to get to the only TLM in the area, and if the weather is bad, or we cannot afford the gas, we attend locally the NO.

  85. elliot says:


    The mass is Sundays at 12:15pm at the St. Johnnes Spital kirche right in the center of Bad Reichenhall and the mass is offered by a priest of the Institute of Christ the King . If you’re ever in Germany, in particular, Bavaria, your more than welcome to come.

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