From The Catholic League:
JOE BIDEN RIDICULED FOR WEARING ASHES
Fox News analyst Bob Beckel today criticized Vice President Joe Biden for wearing ashes on TV; today is Ash Wednesday and Biden is Catholic.
In the middle of a discussion on President Obama’s stimulus plan, Beckel gratuitously said, “Sorry about laughing, but I looked at Joe Biden’s forehead, and I know it is Ash Wednesday, but I’m not sure I would wear that ash on the air. Anyway….”
Catholic League president Bill Donohue wasn’t amused:
Bob Beckel’s admonishing remark, “I’m not sure I would wear that ash on the air,” makes us wonder whether it is the public display of ashes he finds risible, or the religion that sports them.
In any event, there is no record of Beckel ever lecturing a Jew about wearing a yarmulke on TV or a Muslim wearing a turban. Must be something about Catholicism that bothers this guy. We’d love to know what it is. At the very least, a clarification about what he meant is in order.
I am not a fan of Vice President Biden. I think his public record as a pro-abortion "Catholic" Senator and his risible comments about Church doctrine concerning abortion deserve all the beatings we can deliver. I think it is a scandal that his bishops would not deny him Holy Communion.
However, you do not have to be in the state of grace to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. You receive because you are a sinner.
At the same time, I remember something in the readings about washing your face and not being obvious as a penitent in public… yes… I remember reading that somewhere (cf. Matthew 6).
So…. ashes in public? Give witness to your Catholic identity in a world which needs it?
Wash them off because of what the Lord says?
The command to keep up one’s appearance is, I believe, clearly only meant to apply to private, individual fasts. I don’t think it would apply to Ash Wednesday.
I have wondered about this often myself, given the apparent contradiction in today’s Gospel, and yet we Roman Catholic Christians have done this for centuries. I usually go to evening Mass, where it isn’t an issue of going out in public afterward. However this evening we had to make a stop at the grocery store. As we entered an older couple came out with ashes on their foreheads, and we all exchanged brief glances and a smile.
I wonder, would it be considered sinful and an act of shame if one were to wash off the ashes before going out in public, out of fear of being noticed, ridiculed, etc?
Well, the ash on our foreheads is not something we do ourselves for the purpose of getting attention; this mark comes from the Church as a reminder. Granted, Ash Wednesday is not a day of obligation, so that we’re not strictly obliged to get ashes but still, the ashes are not our idea. I say wear the ashes, so that others may also benefit from the reminder, and so that we may witness to our Catholic faith.
Besides, the ashes are blessed, and it never hurts to have one more blessed object about one’s person.
By the way, tonight at Mass we sang Dies Irae during the imposition of ashes.
I think wearing the ashes can be beneficial. However, I think it is often done for the wrong reasons. I suspect there is a feeling that if one doesn’t wear ashes, he or she is somehow less of a Catholic.
It seems ironic, doesn’t it, that we read in the Bible not to let your sacrifice be public, and yet we all wear ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. I always find it interesting each year when it is an opportunity to tell students I teach that the significance of the ashes is to remind me that I will die some day and have to account for my life. Some have unusual reactions, as they are not used to people talking openly about anything spiritual. As far as Joe Biden wearing the ashes in public: regardless of my opinion of Joe (I pretty much stand on polar opposites with him politically….) I think it is a good act of humility, and I have to force myself not to read into his actions. I don’t think it is appropriate for any commentators to criticize him for wearing the ashes, just as one would never question a Jew or Muslim who wears religious garb. Of course, Joe does not represent many Catholic views in his political life, but he is the one who must answer to God, as do we all.
I have always made a point to not wipe away the ashes when in public, even though it makes me feel rather uncomfortable – I try to treat the uncomfortable feeling and any ridicule as a little cross I must bear. Furthermore, it’s always struck me as wrong to purposefully wipe away the ashes just because one will be seen with them – as if one were ashamed to be conspicuously Catholic.
My anti-Catholic mom made fun of me for wearing the ashes when she saw me, though she had modified her plan for dinner and made pancakes and omelettes instead of pot roast.
Anita Moore, re: Ash Wednesday not a day of obligation, shhh! That’s a secret!
Joe Biden DOES look silly with ashes, why I don’t know. When Bob Novak was alive he always wore his ashes to on-air interviews and looked very dignified. Maybe it’s something about humility and hypocrisy?
In terms of my own forehead, I wash. My ashes are my private business. However, I respect people who choose to use their ashes as a teaching moment. We each have different strengths, and different crosses to bear.
As I go to a non-Catholic university, I find it to be a very good opportunity to explain the meaning of the “dirt” on my forehead.
There are public acts of penitence (see today’s first reading) and then there is the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that we are to do in secret (today’s gospel).
I explained it today in my homilies that on this day (and Good Friday) everyone knows we are fasting and doing penance, and it is visible (today at least) on our foreheads also. But for the rest of Lent we are called to take on something in private and should not go blabbing about it with our friends either. Between us and God.
I’m in RCIA yet; this was my first Ash Wednesday. I received the ashes at 9:00 a.m. Mass. Then on to school–I’m a grad student at a very secular public university. I was pretty uncomfortable at first, but realized that it’s good for my humility to be uncomfortable. Then I walked by a guy in a Sikh turban and lost all of my discomfort. He wasn’t the least ashamed wearing something that proclaimed his faith to all. Great teaching moment for me.
While passing my advisor in the hall, he kindly told me that I had a smudge on my forehead! I gently told him “Jim, it’s Ash Wednesday.” While he got his jaw back up off the floor (he’s a pretty determined atheist, like most of the faculty), we continued to discuss my thesis schedule. Great teaching moment for him.
I don’t purposefully wash sacramentals away.
I concur with Fr. Z’s disappointment in the Vice President’s stance on life issues. But today I was so glad to see those photos of Biden circulating. It is, at the least, a sign of Catholicism in the public square.
zgietl, I feel the same way.
And, while I know this isn’t the idea, I think it’s a good opportunity to show solidarity with the Church. In an atmosphere where Catholicism is often denigrated, it’s a powerful sign to see so many people publicly displaying their Catholic Faith, of which we should never be ashamed.
I forgot to mention that last year, one of my instructors asked me if I was dressed up like an indian.
That gave me a good opportunity to teach my whole class about Lent!
Just don’t do it for attention and I think you’re fine wearing them out.
The ashes are a form of public penance. In the early days, penitents would sit outsite the doors of the church wearing sackcloth and ashes, begging for prayers from those who were entering for mass, because they were not allowed in. Public penance has always been exactly that – public.
However, private penances are not to be worn on the person’s sleeve. Jesus admonished the Pharisees for praying privately loudly on the street corners. He tells us to pray in the corner with the door closed privately.
On the one hand, I think it’s good for Catholics to display some obvious sign of the practice of their religion in public. In our age more than ever, we need to have Catholics willing to stand up for their faith in public.
However, I remembered looking at the Gospel for Mass today (Tridentine) and cringing a little bit. It seems like so many Catholics obviously care more about the Ashes than they do about the Mass, and this attitude of desiring an external sign rather than interior, sanctifying grace just seems to go completely against what Christ is saying in the Gospel. Heck, some parishes just have “ash services” where people come purely to get ashes on their forehead. I think it’s a bit showy.
However, at the Tridentine Mass I attended, our priest came and did the Italian/European practice whereby he sprinkled ashes on top of our heads rather than tracing it on our foreheads. I thought it was very nice, and I think it embodies the spirit of Ash Wednesday better than parading around all day almost showing off the ashes on one’s head, a la Biden.
I was taught a simple rule about this question.
If you want to leave them on (in order to show off) then you should wash them off.
If you want to wash them off (because you are embarrassed or ashamed) then you should leave them on.
I will admit that I didn’t go to church today. I joke that since I am there every Sunday I should leave my seat open for the visitors today.
Wear them as a sign of contradiction. We in the Bakersfield, Ca. area were again blessed with Msgr. Belluomini offering and evening Mass with distribution of ashes. Sooooooooo many parishes have a short reading then cattle call ashes. A dignified EF Mass was a blessing to begin the great fast.
Well, today I skipped a class to go to the mass and walked in to my next class with the ashes still on my head (where they stayed the whole day) and finally stepped into my next class 15 minutes late to hear the professor saying that Absolute Truth is an Oxymoron in philosophic discussion. SO yea, I would leave them on.
I like the Italian tradition of recieving the ashes on the top of their head. I find it to be a good reminder of preperation for Lent w/o the showing off of our ‘penence.’
I left them on. But my bangs kept slipping down and covering them up. There was another news babe – Kay Burley who wondered if Biden had a bruise on his head. When corrected, she replied that she had said three Hail Marys, so it was all right. Silly, superficial woman.
I’m a firm believer in not wiping the ashes off. Like Fr. Ignotus said above – this is not a private penance, that should be done in the privacy of our closets, but a public act done in conjunction with the whole Church. Ashes on my forehead is not a sign that “I” am doing penance, but that “we” – the Church – are doing penance.
I did not wash mine off. I only later noticed that perhaps the priest put too much ash on my forhead (either that or it did not have enough oil): when I lowered my head a rather substantial quantity of ash fell onto my arm. Still, apparently there was enough of it left to be noticible. As I went to dinner at the mall I seemed to atract a lot of unwanted attention do to it (which is curious given that I live in a traditionally Catholic country).
Public penances, I think, should not be hidden. I often wonder though if the Lord’s recommendation to keep it all hidden, even prayer, was not a recourse to a certain semitic way of speaking, in which two things were seemingly contrasted in oposition to one another, but that did not necessarily mean that it was an either/or situation (e.g.: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”; “the letter kills; the spirit gives life”; etc). Anyone care to clarify?
Nan If she made pancakes out of respect, then she’s not as anti-catholic as she could be…
Well in an earlier time in Ireland you would have stood out more from not showing the ashes than from showing them (and Sister would not have been happy with ‘clean foreheads’…!). Of course back then the population was 90+% Catholic and the majority of them were still practicing! Not so today, unfortunately.
But these days I think it is good for this sign of our mortality and need of repentance to be in evidence in the public square. If it causes some embarrassment, offer it up. If tempted to pride, remember the original form for its imposition: “Memento homo quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris!”
I choose to wash the ashes off out of fear that it will become a source of pride, like, “Look at me, look how holy I am.” I’m not saying that’s how everyone is, I just worry about it personally, so I was the ashes off.
I may be wrong but is not the act of receiving ashes at a least semi public act as a church? I agree with Mr. Ferguson above
I was at one of the Disney parks yesterday and was approached by at least 20 people asking me where I received ashes. The local church which caters to tourist were basically distributed ashes all day on the hour. If anything else I was a reminder to many people.
Prior to reading this article, I had actually been contemplating the wonderful nature of Ash Wednesday as a public witness. I grew up in the Deep South and am a convert to the Catholic Faith. The years where i was able to wear the ashes on Ash Wednesday allowed me to talk about the faith with many people who had never really encountered a Catholic before.
Now I am a seminarian, preparing for diaconate. Almost every day I am in clerics, and so people come to get used to my appearance. I miss having people come up to me and ask me about the smudge on my forehead. They just assume, “of course he would wear ashes…he’s one of those religious types.” I think it does wonders for the faith when people outside of the faith see people whom they would consider “normal” wearing a sign of faith.
It is a 50/50 call. As a businessman, I delay getting ashes until the 7 PM Mass. My reasoning? I can’t see the ashes, so someone could construe that I was wearing them out of pride, to show that I was different from them.
Everyone around me on Ash Wednesday knows that I’m Catholic. Yet, still, the smudge staring them in the face seems to compel a sarcastic remark.
Person: “You got a little something on your forehead. [chuckles at apparent cleverness].”
Me: “Yeah. I had a cigarette accident.”
You leave the ashes on. It isn’t a private day of fasting which would be a different story. As for myself, I had six or seven people come up to me at work and say wash that ink spot off your face. No clue what the ashes were. But I did have two other people come up and say, What’s that? and after questioning me said, Oh, I remember now, who knows if it will get them thinking about coming back to Christ. So I think it is a public display of our faith which we should show at the start of the Lenten season. After all, a lamp needs to be out for all to see.
I am in the camp of keeping ashes on as a matter of public witness and it is a public ritual of the Church. To remove ashes b/c of fear of embarrassment or ridicule seems like a bad motive. During my rebellious 20s, I remember traveling to Chicago on business and being amazed at the number of colleagues and business people with whom we interacted who had their ashes on. It was a witness to me of their faith. They were not embarrassed to show their faith. I wanted what they had and in time returned to the Faith.
This questioning of whether or not to leave ashes on must be fairly recent. I don’t remember discussions to this extent of whether to wash or leave on. You just left the ashes on. There were always some who washed them off, but most left them on. Catholicism was better known among the general public because we’d get elbow nudges and “Didja forget to wash your face this morning?” but not the unawareness mentioned here.
The observation that “there is no record of Beckel ever lecturing a Jew about wearing a yarmulke on TV or a Muslim wearing a turban” is spot on.
Y’all. Of course you leave the ashes on, unless you take some sort of weird perverse pride in them. What is there to be proud of, really? That you went to church like millions of other people (and not only Catholics anymore)? Even the likes of Joe Biden did that. Whoop-de-doo. If you want a medal, you’ve chosen the wrong devotion; the ashes are a mark of humility.
I also say grace in public—not ostentatiously (though when my young children are with me, it’s impossible to be discreet) but not with shame, either. I tell my teenage catechism students never to be ashamed of their faith, which I think is a greater temptation for the spiritually tepid than to be unduly proud of it.
Is it all right to wear a brown scapular in public, even if it is slightly visible under one’s clothing? All right to wear a piece of jewelry with a crucifix or image of the Blessed Mother? To wear a chapel veil in the church if you are a woman? To wear a T-shirt with a Christian slogan? To bring your WDTPRS mug to work?
Since we are human, all things can become an occasion of sin. This is why we should be in the habit of examining our consciences. If you find, in any of the above practices, a desire to show off your righteousness, then you should cease the practice; but otherwise, never forget that the world is watching, and is unlikely to be moved if believers are ashamed of their faith.
I sincerely hope this wasn’t another “marketing” ploy by Vice President Biden to fool the little old Catholic ladies. He should be denied Communion very publicly.
ps: Bob Beckel is just another oft-putting liberal who will contribute greatly to the Democrats defeat next fall.
If you want to keep them on, wash them off.
If you want to wash them off, keep them on.
That was easy.
I’ll echo the sentiment expressed elsewhere in the comments: the command to fast and do penance in secret is a command regarding personal acts. The penitential acts on Ash Wednesday are communal. The entire Church engages in the practice together, so one is not putting on airs, at least not vis-a-vis one’s fellow Catholics, by having the mark of penance visible in public.
Given the much-changed nature of society, however, one wonders whether the details of the communal practice ought to be altered. I don’t know what one would alter them to, and I generally oppose altering much of anything, so maybe this is just a throw-away line.
Where I live, the custom is that the priest sprinkles the ashes on the top of the head of the faithful, so there is no sign made on the forehead.
Ergo, the question of washing or not washing the forehead does not apply.
Of course, with the method of placing ashes on the top of the head, part of the ashes always fall down to one’s shoulders when one walks or does other normal activities, and so by looking at one’s shirt, one can see the traces of ashes.
Anyway, I don’t bother changing my clothes and I do not remove the ashes from my hair until the usual time when I take a shower. The ashes are, after all, a Sacramental, and it is good to keep it. I think it would be improper to rush to get rid of the ashes ASAP. We should not be ashamed of them.
Also, Ash Wednsday is not about private penitence, but a public, liturgical act associated with penitence, that includes a public imposition of ashes by the Church.
Furthermore, the fact that the ashes are a symbol of Catholic identity in a secular world and even the possibility that, by looking at the ashes in the foreheads of others, fallen away Catholics may remember that they are dust and may feel called to resume Church life, are reasons in support of keeping the ashes for a while.
Anyway, it is an absurdity that anyone – VPOTUS or not – be mocked on TV because they chose to keep the ashes.
I think that Catholics, and non-Catholics making Lenten use of ashes, should make their own prudential decisions about keeping ashes off or on. (Assuming they’re over the age of reason.)
And if you’re not Catholic… well, with all the love in the world, I don’t really see why your opinion of other people’s ashes matters. If you want to be nasty about it, or if you want to be polite or ask thoughtful questions… that’s a reflection of the state of your own soul, not of the person you’re talking about.
Wear them, it is an outward sign to the Worldly that there are absolutes. Sometimes I believe that is why so many people “hate” those that do live lives of obedience to G-d and his commandments.
I was living in a non-Christian country, I attended Mass and received ashes on that Ash Wednesday morning, and then had to go to a meeting with some our my Host country counterparts. No snickers, no snide comments, no shocked looks, no having to explain.
Nothing at all like here in the US of A, where one does endure a milder form of “running the gauntlet” (as so many missionaries to the Americas did in their martyrdom), when you bring your faith to the fore, even if it is just once a year in public.
After watching the Pope’s Ash Wednesday Mass yesterday, I think that placing the ashes on the head and not marking the forehead is a better option…for too many Catholics (myself included at times) making a show of our faith can bring with it a sense of pride that is obviously not in line with what the ashes symbolize. At the same time, I often feel humble walking around during the day with the Ashes on when people give you strange looks. It can bear public witness to the faith and to our status as sinful creatures of God, but at the same time some have a tendency to use it to put on a show. As such, it seems that inflated Mass attendence on Ash Wednesday (and not on actual holy days of obligation and Sundays!) might lead one to conclude that marking your forehead with ashes is a “cultural catholic” kind of thing…If the ashes were placed on the head (and not the forehead) in the US, do you think more or less people would go to Ash Wednesday Mass?
Here is something St. Francis de Sales said in his sermon for Ash Wednesday.
I like the pracitical wisdom of Oledocfarmer above.
I am always stunned and a bit disgusted by those who call themselves Catholic and are pro-abortion. Especially those who are prominent and in public life. I am equally bugged by priests who administer communion to pro-abortionists and the bishops who allow it. I will continue to pray for a change of their conscience and hearts.
Deus servo lemma
I always keep my ashes on for one simple reason – it is a huge penance.
It frustrates me getting told 100 times “Uh…you have something on your head there…” Silly protestant southerners don’t know anything about dem dare Catholics.
So I use it to learn patience.
I have not once from the beginning of attending Mass and having ashes put on my forhead with the word’s “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return” ever washed them off or rubbed them off, and I worked out in the public all my working life. For the whole day I was and stll am reminded of that very thing, the ancient prayers of the blessings suggest suitable thoughts for the opening of Lent. They are summerized here: Almighty and everlasting God, spare the penitene…bless these ashes that thay may be a remedy to all who invoke thy name..O God, Who desires not the death but conversion of sinners, look kindly upon our frailty…and bless these ashes, so that we, who know ourselves to be but ashes…and that we must return to dust, may deserve to obtain pardon and the rewards offered to the penitent”.
I agree with Marymargaret: if you want them on, wash them off, and vice-versa.
As to how the Vice President looked…ah well, that’s the fault of the one who imposed ashes on him! I really make sure folks get a cross of ashes, I use a lot!
In my case, I left my ashes on.
And just who the hell is Bob Beckel, some ignoramous I imagine.
Grabski, this is from a woman who did her best to raise me not to believe in church teaching or papal authority.
I was listening to the Ash Wednesday reading about praying in private and not letting people know you’re fasting. Ash Wednesday is an obligatory fast day, and just before we leave, the priest marks us as Catholics so everyone knows we’re fasting. :)
I cut the baby in two by receiving ashes at the latest possible service.
We’ve probably already “talked it to death”, but, in this day and age it seems that to leave the ashes in place, out of humility, is a much-needed sign to the world of our Faith. Maybe not in the same category as nuns wearing the habit, but, nevertheless, it’s a sign.
Apologies if Fr Z has already mentioned this, but one of our British TV presenters asked if V-P Biden had “walked into a door” and got a bruise on his forehead.
See here (sorry, can’t do the linky thing):
And just who the hell is Bob Beckel, some ignoramous I imagine.
If I’m not mistaken he is one of the few real liberals on Fox.
I am very perplexed by Ash Wednesday. Why is it that people who wouldn’t be
caught dead in church 50 weeks of the year always manage to show up in droves on
Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday? I can almost understand the latter, because
people feel they are entitled to something that is being given away, but there is
nothing glamorous about walking around with a smudge on your forehead. If you
don’t go to Mass on Sunday, the rest of the world has no way of knowing it.
However, if you don’t have a smudge on your forehead on Ash Wednesday, it could
be viewed as an announcement that you haven’t been to church. People who are
too ashamed of their faith to speak up when the Lord’s name is taken in vain in
their presence or when the Catholic faith is denigrated suddenly have no problem
displaying their faith on Ash Wednesday. It amazes me.
I don’t wash the ashes off because it would be vain for me to do so. And I make
it a point to get to Mass very early, before work, so I don’t miss the whole day
as an opportunity to bear witness to the faith. I know that’s not possible for
everyone but I am very grateful that it is for me.
When I saw the ashes on Joe Biden’s forehead (on the TV news here in Australia,) some thoughts and questions came to mind. He is in favour of abortion. Is he is displaying his ashes and making an advertisement of the fact that he received them? Is he trying to get the Catholic vote? Did he forget to wash his face? I did not answer these questions, because there is no way of knowing what was behind Joe’s actions in publicly displaying his ashes in a television interview.
Now for a funny story: One Ash Wednesday a few years ago, I went straight from Mass to a doctor’s appointment, without being conscious of the fact that the ashes were still on my forehead.
During the appointment the doctor started starting at my face and I wondered what was wrong, so I asked him. He then asked me if I had washed my face today! I was so embarrassed! A hasty explanation about Ash Wednesday followed. The doctor is Vietnamese and I think that he is a Buddhist.
My husband and I have always gone to the earliest Mass of the day on Ash Wednesday, not only to be reminded all day that we are dust but to jog other people’s thinking about what really matters. When our children were growing up we took them to this Mass before the start of their school day, hoping that the smudge would indeed be a witness in their public schools. Many of their Catholic schoolmates rarely attended Mass, so I always hoped this sign worked some good. Who knows how many kids went home and questioned their parents about why Mass wasn’t part of their upbringing? For four years after his retirement my husband and I went to Key West for a few days each winter, always including the beginning of Lent. People stared, but some stopped us on the street asking which church we had been to and what times were the Masses. I would never think of washing off the ashes, because I don’t know how the Holy Spirit wants to work through me to bring others to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and by means of this sacramental to consideration of sin, death, and salvation. This is part of our Catholic identity; why hide?
Girgadis, you spoke my thoughts!!
I don’t wash mine off – it’s a good conversation starter. A conversation can lead to a conversion (minus the letters A T, of course)!
Some advice that made sense to me:
– If you wear the ashes in order to attract attention, wash them off.
– If you are embarrassed by the ashes on your forehead, keep them on.
Either way, it’s an exercise of humility, and that seems perfectly appropriate.
I went to Mass in the morning which was my first Ash Wednesday Mass in the Extraordinary Form. I wore mine at work all day which,for me, is quasi-white collar environment. (Not a clerical collar :) ) For me, the point is not say, “see how great I am, I went to Mass.”; but to perhaps remind someone who might otherwise had forgotten. I have to say that the EF priest really “got me good” with the ashes. Had I not removed them by the end of the day, they probably would still be there. :) I work in an environment that seems to want to endorse every secular form of “diversity” possible. If I have to deal with that, then they can deal with my ashes !
Re Biden – don’t TV people always put make-up on indoor interviewees, otherwise they look a very strange colour under the lights?
So was Biden not made up (expert please – does he look like it?), has lighting technology improved so that make-up is no longer needed, or are those false ashes added after the make-up?
I too attend a secular college and so go to 9am mass and leave them afterwards. It always provides a lot of teaching moments, and reminded some Catholic people I saw of what day it was. I did feel embarrassed sometimes, but I’m very proud of being Catholic.
It is not Muslims who wear turbans, at least not as part of their religious identity. Women wearning veils would be more along this line. It is in fact, as Gwen mentions here, Sikhs who wear veils as part of their religious identity. If it wants to be taken (more) seriously, the Catholic League needs to show the same knowledge of, and respect for, other faiths’ beliefs and customs that it rightly expects for the Catholic faith.