This comes up each year in my ASK FATHER email, so I will repost an oldie.
From a reader:
I have a three year old girl. She loves the material aspects of Catholicism (holy cards, holy water, lighting candles, relics etc) and has a pretty good understanding of them for her age.
Can she receive ashes on Ash Wednesday? She obviously hasn’t any sin to repent of in the literal sense of the word, but we do encourage her to say sorry to Jesus every night for the littlw ways she might have been bold that day. Receiving ashes could be a useful part of the learning process for her.
Are there any official rules around the age when one can have ashes imposed on Ash Wednesday?
There aren’t any age rules for this. As your child’s parent you get to make your own call about that. If the priest is amenable, you can do this.
I would advise, however, that if the ashes are put on a bit thick on the forehead that you take care that she not get any in her eyes.
If she is old enough to say “sorry” to Jesus before bed, she is old enough to start learning with steps about penance and self-denial too, perhaps. Of course, at that age she isn’t bound to fast or abstain, etc.
Perhaps parents can chime in with their comments about this, for they have been through these decisions.
Speaking for myself, I have some very early memories. I wonder what the long-term effect of the reception of ashes might be deep down in her Catholic identity as she grows up amid the deepening challenges of this world.