ASK FATHER: Children and ashes

From a reader:

Are children of any age able to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday or is First Communion/Confirmation required first? My son is almost 2.

Yes, children of any age can receive ashes.  That’s up to you parents and, I suppose, the willingness of little stupor mundi to submit to the moment without having a fit.

I suspect that these very early memories could play a part in a deeper formation of identity.

Watch out, however, lest ashes get into the eyes of the really little ones.

Come to think of it, I don’t see why non-Catholics couldn’t receive ashes.  They are not forbidden from making the sign of the Cross with Holy Water when entering our churches.  They can have blessed palms on Palm Sunday.  Why couldn’t they get some ashes on Ash Wednesday?

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  1. Imrahil says:

    They are not forbidden from making the sign of the Cross with Holy Water when entering our churches.

    They aren’t; but if they know about the precise meaning this gesture has (renewal of Baptism), maybe they choose not to.

    As for ashes, sure!

  2. cpttom says:

    At my parish one of the Priests puts a heart sticker on foreheads of the kids under 7. He justifies this because “years of experience” (he is a retired priest) have told him that little kids view the ashes as dirty or may be scared of them, so the heart, which is a symbol of love, is more meaningful for them. This Sunday Father NiceGuy had to make it part of his homily why he does it. A really big production too.

    I do not agree with this and have always insisted my children receive ashes so that I, as their parent, can explain the significance of the ashes, and so that the actual sacramental is used. I have 5 kids and I have never had a problem with my kids (once verbal) understanding. Am I right to object to this “novelty?” or should I go along with Father NiceGuy? I’m planning on just ignoring this, because I’ve talked to him before, and our Pastoral Administrator seems to be okay with it.

  3. Suburbanbanshee says:

    There comes a point where all these “special things for the children” start to amount to denying the humanity of kids, and their dignity as Catholics.

    What a priest is supposed to say when he imposes ashes is “Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” or “Turn away from your sins and accept the Gospel.” I admit that you could argue that a little Baptized kid under the age of reason has no sins, per se.

    But a kid is still facing death every day, just like the rest of us. It is cruel to deny that.

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    And no matter how young a kid is, he has an immortal soul which can receive and use graces.

  5. Maximilia says:

    Oh dear, I thought non-Catholics could receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. At the two Ash Wednesday Masses that I went to before I became Catholic, I received ashes. I never took the Eucharist, obviously, but I was told that it was all right for me to receive the ashes. I was desperate to become Catholic then, and receiving the ashes made a huge impression on me, but was I not supposed to?

  6. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I think Canon 1170 gets us there, Pater. That said, precisely as sacramentals, I am not sure of the ‘good’ done by a non-baptized’s participation in such a rite. I have some theories, but am open to others.

  7. MrsMacD says:

    I have a number of children. They recieve ashes from the get go. Remember son, thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return, so you’d better be good. Better than Santa Clause. A little healthy fear never killed anyone, fear of the road, fear of playing on the railway, fear of not wearing your seatbelt, fear of the roof (still working on that one), fear of hanging out in front of a strip joint after dark and YES fear of sin, which will cause eternal death.

  8. Legisperitus says:

    The late Fr. Benedict Groeschel said that when he was stationed in the Bronx a number of Jewish people went and got ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday. He once asked one of them why, and he said the woman replied: “It doesn’t cost anything, and it couldn’t hoit.”

  9. Geoffrey says:

    In the case of children, which legitimate formula (in the OF) would be more appropriate?

    “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”?

  10. Legisperitus says:

    I agree with Suburbanbanshee … telling a child below the age of reason to repent is a bit odd. So the “Memento homo” works best, and besides, it’s the traditional formula.

  11. Thorfinn says:

    Today at Mass little boy Finn said, “We ash”. Any priests or deacons in need of a concise homily for this evening are welcome to use that.

  12. Gaz says:

    Ashes (as a sacramental) are an excellent preparation for the Sacrament of Penance. I maintain that the proper reception of ashes can forgive venial sin (just read through the prayers for the blessing of ashes in the extraordinary rite for proof). Children steeped in the faith are better equipped to hold onto it.

  13. Gaz says:

    They are not forbidden from making the sign of the Cross with Holy Water when entering our churches.

    Well, if holy water is replaced with sand as it still is in some places…

    I was baptised in Lent. I like to bless myself with holy water as a reminder…. Especially on the anniversary…. Like even better to go for a renewal of promises for a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions.

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