QUAERITUR: Ashes, Very Small Children, and You – An annual discussion.

ashes and babiesFrom a priest:

Reverend and Dear Father,

Ash Wednesday is soon to be upon us, and I am faced with the situation I am often faced with: whether to impose ashes on cute, angel-faced infants.

It never fails that, as the faithful come up for ashes, they bring children.

I don’t see the purpose of imposing ashes on babies, who are unaware of not only sin, but what the ashes represent (as well as what the formula spoken means).

I know, if I don’t impose ashes on them, I’ll get bad looks from both sides of the ecclesiological spectrum.

Is there a reason I can cling to why babies should receive ashes?

I hope a few priests will jump in with their experience and thoughts on this matter.

Father, you are right that, looking at it with the cold eyes of reason, there is little point to imposing ashes on an infant.  Sure there is the cuteness factor.  More importantly, you will  avoid the ridiculous discussions you will have to endure if you don’t put ashes on the precious bundle of joy.  Inevitably someone will be upset that little Stupor Mundi didn’t get the ashes, especially because we live in an age when everyone has to “get theirs”, and in particular if it’s free.  No reason will be involved in these discussions, by the way.  You’ll have to deal with emotions, usually “mom’s”, and you cannot win on that field.  So, Father, unless you have lots of time and patience, just put the ashes on the kids.

On the other hand, our Catholic identity is rooted in more than what we grasp from the light of reason. Deep memories and emotions, implanted impressions, also play their role.  I have some really early memories.  You just never know what ineffable memory might be planted!  Seriously.

It seems to me that if it is obvious that mommy or daddy want darling precious to have ashes, then go with that. Put the ashes on the kid and move on (I am assuming that you are moving along the altar rail where people are kneeling like the good Catholics they ought to be).

If you are not sure if mommy or daddy expects Her Cuteness to get smeared with the gritty burnt vegetable remains which could get her wittle eyes, then ask about it.   You could ask something like, “Do you want some of this harsh and gritty burnt vegetable ash near her sensitive eyes or not?”

On second thought, how about, “And your child?”

I would advise, that if the ashes are put on a bit thick on the child’s forehead that you watch carefully that you not get any in the child’s eyes.  After that you can, if the image isn’t a bit ironic, wash your hands of the matter…. which come to think of it you’ll be doing before Mass continues.  I digress.  Just don’t you get ashes in the child’s eyes.  The parent’s eyes, on the other hand….

“But Father! But Father!”, I can hear some people shouting.  “Clearly you think ashes shouldn’t be put on babies.  How old is old enough for the ashes? Do we have to wait for 1st Holy Communion?”

First, I didn’t say babies should not be given ashes.  Read again what I said above about deep memories.  I wasn’t kidding about that.  I am not being merely pragmatic.  However, I would add that if little Stupor Mundi is old enough to say “sorry” to Jesus before beddy-bye, she is also old enough to start learning about penance and self-denial and what the ashes stand for: We are dust and unto dust we shall return.

Hmmm… now that I think of it, if a parent has to look at the smudge on baby’s head and think about death, that could be a good thing.

Reverend and Dear Father, since this is a sacramental, and not a sacrament, I think we can have some leeway.  And before anyone brings it up by shouting “But Father!”, this is not quite like the “blessing for babies at Communion time” issue: that moment is for Communion, not blessings.  Dealing with the fallout (get that “ash” image?  heh?) might be the same, they are not the same problem.

Finally, if you are going to make the decision not to put ashes on babies, may I recommend making a good confession before Ash Wednesday?

If you survive, let us know how it went.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. I give everyone ashes who wants them. I do go light with little ones. Bigger kids and grownups get a big schmeer of ashes.

  2. Father S. says:

    It seems that there is Biblical precedent for children doing penance. In Book of Jonah, (3:5) we can see that when the prophet walked through the city, everyone did penance, “from the greatest of them to the least of them.” (RSV. The Hebrew bears out the same translation.) It seems to me that there would be no reason not to impose them.

  3. Daniel Latinus says:

    When I was a little boy, I attended a Lutheran school, and I have to admit that I was a bit horrified and grossed-out at the thought of receiving ashes when I heard about it. When I was ten, I started attending a Catholic school, and was a bit apprehensive about receiving the ashes. (I believe my eight-year old sister and seven-year old brother had similar feelings.) And it turned out to be no big deal.

    So I would argue in favor of imposing ashes on the infants when presented, as a means of just getting the kids used to the practice, and also as a form of deep, long-term, evangelization, as part of the “smells and bells” that might steady a wavering will, or call back an old sinner on his deathbed.

  4. John Nolan says:

    Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris. It is the blight man was born for: It is Margaret you mourn for.

    [Spring and Fall: To a Young Child

    Márgarét, are you gríeving
    Over Goldengrove unleaving?
    Leáves, líke the things of man, you
    With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
    Ah! ás the heart grows older
    It will come to such sights colder
    By and by, nor spare a sigh
    Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
    And yet you wíll weep and know why.
    Now no matter, child, the name:
    Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
    Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
    What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
    It ís the blight man was born for,
    It is Margaret you mourn for.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins]

  5. Random Friar says:

    Under canon 1170, under the section on sacramentals:

    Can. 1170 Blessings which are to be imparted first of all to Catholics, can also be given to catechumens and even to non-Catholics unless there is a prohibition of the Church to the contrary.

    AFAIK, the practice is not forbidden to the imposition of ashes.

  6. Supertradmum says:

    I remember getting ashes and all the children in my family having smudges at very early ages. We loved it, as Mom and Dad had smudges as well. Such things do make an impression on kids and where did you get that adorable photo?

  7. In their wittle eyes. Ha ha ha. You are right Father – you can’t win with the Mommies. Though I think you are on the right track with putting them on the babies – not for them – but for the parents. I forget about my ashes as the day goes on but when my kids come home from school with a big black smudge on their foreheads I am reminded again and every other time until bath time of what the day is about.

    And seriously what is up with the big smearers versus the minimalist approach? Is it some kind of order thing or seminary training or just Priest particular?

  8. Father G says:

    I was left speechless momentarily when I placed ashes on an infant for the very first time.
    Here was this baby at the beginning of his life and here I am placing ashes on its forehead , saying to him that one day he will return to dust.
    It was a powerful reminder for me of our mortality.

  9. I have several reasons for using a lot of ashes:

    1. The Second Vatican Council talked about making generous use of stuff.
    2. It’s fun.
    3. If you’re going to walk around all day with a smudge on your head, it might as well look like a cross.
    4. If you tell people I did it, I want my work to look good!
    5. Each parish has a supply of ashes that will run out about the same time our federal debt is paid off. I like using it up.

  10. mamajen says:

    I’ve had my son receive ashes since he was born, but the priests have always been lighter on him than on adults. From my perspective it’s a teaching thing. My son is three now, and he remembers receiving ashes in years past. He is looking forward to doing so again. I hope that as he grows older he will continue to appreciate the practice and not feel embarrassed by it.

  11. digdigby says:

    Father A is a fast and an expert Cross-maker and the results are sort of ‘Elegant Rouaultish’. Father B makes you look like you got drunk at Mardi Gras and fell face down – he shouldn’t even be allowed near adults, nevermind toddlers.

  12. mike cliffson says:

    Not me as has any discernment on this one, but here’s my 10cents’th
    Not that the AT is gospel for christians, as twere, but it’s a good starting point.
    The reading-a-thon liturgies in Nehemias has men, women, and those of the age of reason present, at least JB translation.
    We’ve only one of our eleven who hasn’t made his first communion yet, (this coming May) but he never misses sunday mass, is defininitely going up to be ashed, is definitely age-of-reason plus abit.
    If we could, we’ve always taken the whole boiling , some priests ashed whoever was a babe in arms at the time , some didn’t, those who reached the altar rails or where they once were on their own feet got ashed.
    No fuss.
    Equally, if family logistics meant the smallest didn’t get with eitherof us , no sweat either: tho kids can carry on about being left out!
    Personally, In primary school I think it’s good they should be, persecution has begun by then and at 4 or 5 they’re getting an inkling…….
    If you’re going to be logical, it has to be age of reason, it’s like what age they get white coffins,(if dead) I mean, children below that age can DO wrong but it isnt imputable, is it? But AT again,Jonah, the ninivites even sackclothed and ashed their animals, sorta collective repentence? Or were they going forgivably OTT?
    (Better keep that one under wraps,Fr, or you’ll be ashing hamsters)
    Anyhow, my idea of anything catholic is CRAWLING with kids, quietish, even the toddlers, albeit wrigglesome.
    Ash the lot, surely, it’s simpler?

  13. mattdiem says:

    Can anyone comment on the following:

    I don’t normally attend Mass before work partly due to laziness and partly due to me watching the kids while the wife is at the gym….maybe I go every 4 months….

    So, I worry that by attending my ash Wednesday Mass *before* work, I am partly doing so to ‘show off’ my Catholicism in the workplace ….on the other hand, I don’t want to avoid going because I’m embarrassed to have the ashes or embarrassed to be catholic….plus, I figure there is some sort of public witness to fallen away Catholics but am I really the person to do that? (I think not….)

    After work or before? Anyone care to peer into my soul? [For that, go to confession. Otherwise, you can always remove the ashes before going into your work place.]

    Having a good laugh at myself,


  14. acardnal says:

    Why not give ashes to infants? They ARE baptized. [Are you sure about that? Even if they weren’t, I don’t see a reason why they could not receive ashes.] It’s not the same as making one’s First Holy Communion where the “age of reason” is necessary. Just my thoughts on the subject.

  15. acardnal says:

    I forgot to add to my previous post that I agree with “Random Friar” above: even non-Catholics are allowed to receive the blessed ashes. I see no problem with infants receiving ashes. [That canon is about receiving blessings. The ashes receive the blessing. I am not sure that reception of ashes is the same thing as the reception of a blessing.]

    Regarding the placement of the ashes on the recipient, I note that the Holy Father received his NOT on the forehead but sprinkled on top of his head in years past. Perhaps this is the way it is done in Italy.

  16. Maltese says:

    Why is it that half the websites and blogs out there think Ash Wednesday is a Holy Day of Obligation?

    I for one, will not allow ashes on my baby’s forehead.

    Was this even customary before Vatican II, or a new, novel, development?

  17. pm125 says:

    Babies who can’t walk yet and have arms and hands here, there, and everywhere may just rub some ash into their eyes or mouths. Why risk their eyes or choking on carbon more extreme than burnt toast. Then, parents could participate in the Mass without worrying over such ‘accidents’. And babies don’t know what’s happening until they can at least toddle along with the family to see. Whoever has an infant with ashes had better have a towel or tissue handy. Cuteness is not the purpose, why tamper with cuteness.

  18. acardnal says:

    Fr. Z, you mentioned above that one “can remove the ashes before going in to work.” I have often wondered what is the proper way to remove the ash from one’s forehead because they are blessed ashes. Is rinsing my forehead and letting the water fall to the ground too scrupulous? [I wouldn’t be too worried about that. Just clean them off.]

  19. pjsandstrom says:

    Father, with your ‘do the red, say the black’ you should take seriously the texts used for the imposition of ashes: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”; “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. What babe in arms could (aside from miracles) receive such texts addressed to them intelligently? They have not any need of ‘repentance’ since they are presumable baptized (at least) and have neither the possibility nor the will to commit sin. ‘Remember you are dust. . .” would be just as incomprehensible — I suspect even to the proud parent, or godparent holding the child. Some benign ‘blessing gesture’ would probably make sense, but demanding ”momento mori” and active belief in the Gospel is several steps too far. Now, on the other hand, if the child can toddle up on its own, or holding the mother’s hand that changes the question.

    [I know that you are not suggesting that everyone has to understand everything during our liturgical worship.]

  20. Maltese says:

    When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
    And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
    And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
    Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

    How many loved your moments of glad grace,
    And loved your beauty with love false or true,
    But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
    And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

    And bending down beside the glowing bars,
    Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
    And paced upon the mountains overhead
    And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
    — WB Yeats

    Yes, age and death creep upon us all. Ashes remind us of this. But I still think it absurd to have non-sacramental ashes placed on a baby’s head who has no subjective knowledge of it. Ashes are for the recipient to know that they will one day be reduced to ashes, not to know that their baby will someday be reduced to ashes.

    Again, I ask, what is the craze with Ash Wednesday? It seems to me to be a post-Vatican II Lenten obsession.

    Churches are sometimes almost empty for certain days of obligation, but chock-full on Ash Wednesday. Bizarre. [Not really. People who are not in the state of grace and know they cannot receive Communion can nevertheless go forward and get something. And, it must be admitted, it is evocative. The same holds for Palm Sunday. Always a big day. ]

  21. LisaP. says:

    1. The beginning of the awareness of sin, and of our own sin, is not a bright and clear line that you can see from the outside; and the awareness of sin begins but progresses and grows and changes over many, many, many years. I’d hate to be a priest tasked with evaluating children as they come up and deciding which ones “should” and shouldn’t have ashes on the forehead.

    2. I’m not entirely sure this isn’t a process that begins at birth or before, in a form. The smallest child, an unborn child, feels pain, and some die — the wages of sin they already have some instinct for before they can be carried past the altar. Being sorry that the world is separated from God, I’m not sure that a child has to be able to reflect consciously on that or express it before he can, in some form, feel it.

    3. Is there a reason not to give ashes? I understand the reasons not to bless a child at Communion, they are compelling, so that benefit of getting a blessing is more than offset by the problems of getting the blessing at that time and it shouldn’t be done. But if the only down side of ashes on an infant head is the risk of motes in eyes, I think the babies will survive it. Have you seen all the things they take out of and put into newborns’ bodies in the hospital at birth? A little smudge ain’t nothing. This seems a lot like letting infants play (safely, no choking hazards or lead paint or such) with rosaries — much potential gain and no harm done.

    4. I used to be concerned about the ashes being the equivalent of going about with a long face showing everyone how big a faster you were, as the passage goes that is read every year, that it might be showing off of a kind. But I’ve run into enough anti-Christian and anti-Catholic sentiment in the last decade that I’m pretty convinced I’m more likely to lose a job or get sneered at for a smudge than have someone admire me, so I’m happy to get all ashed up and ash up all my kids as much as we can.

    5. This is half of why we’re Catholic, this fun stuff! No one else gets to do this.

  22. Quanah says:

    A blessing has never hurt anyone. The benefits of the Church’s work are not dependent on reason, but on grace. And then there is this: “Train up a child in the way he should go: And when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Prov 22:6

  23. Father P says:

    I’ve changed views and practice on this over the years. Of course the Joel reading for Ash Wednesday talks about “infants at the breast”. What I do now is that for adults and school age children I use the formula “turn away from sin” and for infants “remember that you are dust”.

  24. Precentrix says:

    @Fr. Fox – ROTFLMHO!

    @acardnl – The priests get them on the top of the head, for some reason. [Because that is where the clerical tonsure is/was.] Some priests want to do this to everyone, not sure what the reasoning is, but Reverend Fathers please NEVER sprinkle them on the top of a novice’s white veil…

  25. Precentrix says:

    Oh… and ‘the age of reason’ is only required for reception of Holy Communion in the Latin rite… it’s a discipline of the West and a child of an earlier age who receives the Sacrament still, well, receives the Sacrament. It’s not like any of us actually understand, after all!

  26. Random Friar says:

    To further discussion on who may receive ashes, I wonder if we can extrapolate who may receive sacramentals from other practices. AFAIK, anyone can receive a sacramental. The “ideal” situation, of course, is always a full, conscious and active participation in whatever rite or paraliturgical event.

    I’m trying to think of a sacramental that is limited to just Catholics above the age of reason. For example, we sprinkle holy water rather indiscriminately.

    From a homily on Ash Wednesday by Bl. Pope John Paul II:

    3. “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning” (Jl 2,12). With the words of the prophet Joel, the liturgy of Ash Wednesday exhorts to conversion older persons, mature men and women, young people and children. All have to ask pardon of the Lord for ourselves and for others (cf. ibid., 2,16-17).

    “Children,” in this context, could it refer to those under the age of reason? I don’t know.

    None of the above, I freely admit, is of itself sufficient to say “yea” with certitude.

  27. digdigby says:

    pm125 has clinched it as far as I’m concerned. This is MAMA-talk and it wins hands down, it even check-mates Father Z (if such a thing were possible NO ashes on baby.
    “Babies who can’t walk yet and have arms and hands here, there, and everywhere may just rub some ash into their eyes or mouths.”

  28. MichaelP71 says:

    Father I have been thinking about this for a while and I think this year more than any other year, to my memory, we need to get ashes and wear them out. If you are serious about your faith, believe in more than just Freedom of Worship and in a small way want to stand with your Bishop…Be not afraid and WEAR EM PROUD! I am of course open to correction and maybe I am being too “militant” about this but it seems like a right sort of reaction for what has been going on here. (I am not suggesting beligerant or in any way unkind action, at all.) Thoughts?! [Great idea! But this is really an entry about putting ashes on babies and very young children. I suspect that in the next couple days we can find a way to get at this too.]

  29. Random Friar says:

    Something that MichaelP71 just said, and I know it was far from his intention, is that we will inevitably see those same politicians who act against the Church wearing ashes on their foreheads proudly, claiming to be proud of their Catholic faith, etc., willfully oblivious to the consequences of their acts and speech.

    If anyone asks about why you are wearing ashes, don’t say “because that’s what we always do” or “Catholic pride” ;) Rather, consider it a teaching moment about what we truly believe.

  30. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I’ve always placed ashes on the infants and small children, because their parents see it as their inclusion in the life of the Church, even though they do not yet grasp that life or its significance. Some parents can get very angry also when you say no, and there is no harm in acquiesing to this request. I liked Fr. S. referring to Jonah above.

  31. aspiringpoet says:

    “Be not afraid and WEAR EM PROUD!”

    I thought the ashes were about humility.

  32. Volanges says:

    @Lisa P. Don’t assume that everyone you see with a smudged forehead on Wednesday is a Catholic. Other ecclesial communities also impose ashes: Anglican, Methodist, Moravian, Lutheran and even some Baptist communities.

  33. Father P says:

    Actually I like seeing Catholic politicians who are not so faithful wearing ashes. It might be a “politicaal” gesture (I’ll let God decided on that one). But at least it is a recognition that they are not as faithful as they could be. Not that the above poster was implying this but I offended a parishioner once who complained that like Holy Communion ashes should only be distributed to those in the state of grace because those who were sinners should not be going around with ashes on their foreheads like they were “faithful Catholics” — and I pointed out that ashes were a sign that we were recognizing that we were sinners in need of repentance — the person stormed away saying — Is that one of those Vatican II changes?

  34. The Cobbler says:

    “The ashes receive the blessing. I am not sure that reception of ashes is the same thing as the reception of a blessing.”
    Well, yes, but isn’t the point of receiving a blessed thing to gain grace from that blessing? I ask in all honesty because, if there’s much more to the theology than that, I’d be genuinely interested to learn.

  35. AnnAsher says:

    I’ve always presented my children for ashes (currently ages 4 to 18). It is the beginning of the journey of the 40 days. Including the children is about raising them within and for the life of the Church. Children are primarily experiential learners. I believe there are ties that bind them to the faith in these early memories which slowly unfold into understanding. It’s unfortunate my Roman babies are denied Holy Communion.

  36. Bender says:

    When a baby is brought up who will not one day return to dust, then it would not be appropriate. We are all of us “dust,” even little babies.

    As for being able to comprehend, “remember you are . . . ” — I suppose a baby can comprehend that as well as he or she can comprehend his mother saying to them “Mommy loves you very much, yes she does.”

    The ear is not the only thing in the person that can hear, and not every spoken word is addressed to the physical person. The heart, i.e. the spirit, can hear as well, and it can comprehend “I love you” and probably “Remember you are dust” as well, even if their intellect cannot.

  37. heway says:

    Father, give the babies ashes…Mine received them . I read Cardinal Dolan’s message from Friday and cried. When he spoke of the New Evangelization, he pointed out the importance of what you do, not just what you say. It may be important for other children/adults to see babies ‘ashed’. It may flame that spark within them. Today a 63 year old neighbor, who does not attend church, asked if he could join us on Wednesday for ‘Ashes’? Let’s pray for a spark to grow to flame in him.
    Not to change the subject, but do you have an easy way to get the ashes out of the towel the priest uses? That is what I dread most -trying to clean it.

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  39. NoTambourines says:

    I was in grade school in the ’80s, and we were eligible for them after First Communion. There is one advantage to that angle in the school setting: for that brief moment when you’re old enough, it’s something you “get to” do.

    That’s a mentality I might keep in mind this Ash Wednesday. I “get to” get ashes and repent.

  40. tzard says:

    You mentioned our catholic identity – and it seems easy for us to forget the power ritual has, and how much we are not alone.

    Do we prevent young children from eating fish with the rest of us on Friday? After all, there is little for them to repent of? What normal family would prepare a separate meal of meat for those under the age of reason?

    It seems there are multiple ways of seeing a sacramental – it has individual efficacy and also has an effect on the family, the community, the nation! The bible speaks of nations repenting. Our nation is the Church – and this is another sign, like those at Nineveh – we are wearing sackcloth and ashes.

    Every christian should receive ashes.

  41. I can’t remember not receiving ashes myself as a small child. I have a friend in the USA whose son was brain-damaged when hit by a car outside their home. The boy was about 6 or 7 at the time, as I recall. His father took him to church the following Ash Wednesday to receive the ashes. The priest, however, wouldn’t to so, probably figuring that the youngster was incapable of sinning. However, the father was so deeply hurt by this that years later he still doesn’t go to Mass.

  42. Elizabeth M says:

    I have to carry my little one up to the altar since I can’t leave him in the pew. If Father wants to give him ashes, I won’t say no. If he doesn’t I’m not going to make a fuss about it either. I guess I assume Father knows what he is doing and whether or not my child should receive ashes – or a blessing each Sunday at the Communion rail.

  43. Philangelus says:

    I’ve read through all the comments and I’m still not sure why this is even an issue. Catholics don’t *have* to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, so if the baby doesn’t get them, no biggie. Babies aren’t appreciably harmed in any spiritual, psychological (or psychospiritual) fashion if they do receive them, so again no biggie.

    God doesn’t give each parish a Big Ole Bag O Graces to hand out, such that the babies are taking away graces that could used by adults such as myself with our filthy and tattered souls. We don’t need to ration God’s love and goodness, since God Himself does no such thing.

    IMHO this is a “begin as you mean to go on” situation, since at some point every human being who lives to the age of reason is going to require some training in penance and repentance. The same way we don’t stop our young children from reciting the Confietor at Mass, or from saying “Have mercy on us” at the Lamb of God, or “pray for us sinners” during the Hail Mary, I don’t think we should bar them from receiving ashes. My three year old could say “forgive us our trespasses” even when most of us would agree he wasn’t of an age where his soul was in jeopardy because of trespasses.

    You’re saying “there is little point” to putting ashes on an infant — but there is. The child is part of the Catholic family and part of the human race.

    And finally, if you’re talking about reminders of mortality for the parents, I did have a baby who died at two hours old. I’d much rather have had a baby with an ashy smudge on her forehead.

  44. kat says:

    As with many others’ positions, I say “Why not?” All the children in our church receive ashes, mine as well. One thing not mentioned yet is that if your baby receives them, and you have young children, they will probably ask “why” or “why not” for themselves and their little sibling. The parent then has the opportunity to explain it all to that older child, especially how we are all born to die, to “return to dust” even our new little baby, whenever God chooses to call each of us. So, it is all part of raising the family following the liturgical year, hopefully to love the Faith, the Church, and to keep it when they are older.

  45. MominTexas says:

    For my infant, no. If they itch, feel odd, or anything, she’ll rub it, get it on her fist, therefore in her mouth, and possibly in her eyes. She’s one that always has her hands rubbing on her face. Now, once mine are toddlers or older- walking age, really- I don’t have a problem with it, as they still serve as a witness to others.

  46. Lotsoflittlekids says:

    The first time one of my infants got ashes, I was quite surprised. I didn’t bring the infant up with me to get ashes, but because it is not safe to leave them alone in the pew. It’s the same with Holy Communion, they come with me if I can’t leave them unsupervised in the pew without causing trouble. I agree with Fr. Z about if they’re old enough to say ‘sorry’ then they are old enough for ashes. With my kids, that’s at about 2 or 3. And for the record, it is a bugger to wash the ashes off of a little squirmy baby’s forehead, unless that is intended as penance.

  47. Johnno says:

    I suppose this whole thing is similar along the lines of asking, as John the Baptist did, why Christ Himself, who was without sin, came to be baptized…

    The babies do not need the ashes, but they could receive them as a sign of Catholic solidarity and unity, in a way. A reminder that though they have nothing to repent of, they too will return to dust someday. A reminder of the curse of original sin that brought death and suffering to the world and that inflicts us all.

  48. catholicmidwest says:

    I don’t know that it hurts them to get ashes, as long as they don’t rub them in their eyes. I’m a grandmother and I know that kids put their hands on their faces continually. It’s very likely the ashes are going to end up in the eyes, on the hands then in the eyes, etc. Good for priests who take it a little easy with the ashes on little ones, for this reason.

  49. catholicmidwest says:

    PS, in the search for Catholic identity markers, ashes is a pretty good start. Not only is it a physical sign but it’s accompanied by a pithy message.

    Many Catholics in the US go to these Ash Wednesday services. In fact, it has one of the largest turnouts of the year in many parishes, getting more attention than holy days. Ashes are a “marker” that people choose to wear on this day in the street, and that’s huge in a post-modern society like ours.

    We need markers, signs of our identity to each other and to society in general, and this should be one of them. Giving the sign of ashes even to children should be done, if only for this reason. It gives them something to identify with, a marker of their identity, a sign of their personal belonging. In fact, we need these things in order to internalize our Catholicity.

    This sign can also be a sign of conversion for those who aren’t Catholic, because they show up in line on this day too. What can be better than that? This is encouragement for those looking for something.

    Now to find some more signs as good as this one, right?

  50. ejcmartin says:

    “If you survive, let us know how it went.”
    I wonder how it went.

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