POLL: #AshWednesday Ashes and You

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

It is not.

Lent is an important season in the yearly cycle of a Catholic Christian’s life.  The inclination toward a feeling of obligation is laudable. 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.

Give us your best answer and your comments.

On Ash Wednesday 2016...

View Results

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Prayerful says:

    Got Mass (of Ages), but the curate who says the morning is often barely audible, yet there’s no issue on Sunday, which is strange. ashes were given before Mass, so I missed that. I always thought it was a Holy Day of Obligation.Hope to manage daily Mass for Lent.

  2. germangreek says:

    How can we receive ashes but not at Mass? At one of those Episcopalian “ashes to go” events? Then it really is about being recognized for our piety, isn’t it?

    Judging by the crowds we have at the noon Mass at the cathedral on Ash Wednesdays, a lot more people think Ash Wednesday is a Holy Day of Obligation than think so of the Immaculate Conception or the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God (or the Circumcision, or the World Day of Peace, or whatever we’re calling it this year).

  3. Kerry says:

    An optional question for the poll: If received ashes, was from Priest or civilian? (Yes, there was a civilian, of the distaff side, dispensing ashes this AM.)

  4. APX says:


    It’s possible to receive ashes outside of Mass. Furthermore, in the EF, since the ashes are distributed at the start before Mass begins, one is free to receive ashes and leave before Mass (ie: the work and need to get back to work and don’t have the time to stay for the Mass).

    I feel bad for a number of our choir members who work and can’t arrange their schedule to attend Ash Wednesday during the day, and can’t attend the evening Masses because we still have choir practice tonight despite it being Ash Wednesday. I realize it’s Lent now, but really…

  5. VeritasVereVincet says:


    My parish had an Ash Wednesday Communion service at 6:30a (plus Masses at 9a and 7p). I would assume those people had ashes without Mass.

  6. WGS says:

    Pray for my deceased friend L.G. who died some thirty years ago. He was distressed by the proliferation of laymen busying themselves around the altar at Mass and jokingly offered his services as “Ashman”. He was willing to be of service not only for Ash Wednesday but would make himself available for ashes throughout the year. RIP.

  7. yatzer says:

    Prayers for your friend. Haven’t been anywhere yet, and am not sure I will go. It has been years since I missed, but am tired from caring for sick grandson yesterday, work today, and baby grandson again tomorrow.

  8. Jim Dorchak says:

    I am starting to think like the Jewish guy in Florida that maybe we should listen to Pope Francis and that this stuff is maybe not so important anymore? I mean what about carbon foot prints and global warming? Really what is important here?

  9. majuscule says:

    I can’t put my answer in the poll yet because the Mass at my local church isn’t until this evening. I would go to one of the earlier services at the parish church but I can’t get away.

    I know it’s not a holy day of obligation. Ideally I would go to an early service, get my ashes and go shopping or something as a form of evangelization.

    In the announcements our service was not listed as a Mass. Instead it was “liturgy and ashes” by which I think someone meant a communion service or maybe just readings and then ashes. But our “in residence” priest told us it would be a Mass, God bless him.

    We will all receive ashes from our priest.

  10. ReginaMarie says:

    No Mass or ashes since we Eastern Catholics began the Great Fast 2 days ago on Pure Monday. That being said, we do often take the children to evening Mass on Ash Wednesday at one of the local Roman Catholic parishes. My teenage daughter had a Methodist co-worker ask her yesterday where he could go to “get ashes” today.

  11. jfk03 says:

    For Byzantine (Greek) Catholics following the Gregorian calendar, Great Lent began last Monday (Clean Monday). Many of us will attend the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts this evening and on Friday. Ashes are not distributed in the Eastern tradition, as far as I know.

  12. HyacinthClare says:

    Received ashes at 6:30 mass this morning. Every year I wonder if I ought to “wash my face” afterwards rather than wear them for all my tax clients to see all day. The excuse (?) I have always given NOT to “wash my face” is that these dear people don’t have a clue that I’m fasting, but it’s frequently a good conversation starter about going to church. Many years ago on an Ash Wednesday, one person took a look at my smudges and said, “Church! Yes! Tonight!” I was delighted and have worn them all day for that specfic intention ever since.

  13. Sliwka says:

    Attended Divine Liturgy at the Basilian Monastery in town this morning, so no ashes.

    Won’t receive any today as our daughters immunizations are booked just perfectly to not make it possible.

    Another way to have the “Ashes/No Mass” combo is with a Liturgy of the Word & Ashes (what my parish is doing this morning with the Catholic elementary school children) Mass is this evening.

  14. Geoffrey says:

    I will be serving at Mass this evening, and assisting in the distribution of ashes. The “powers that be” will “encourage” me to use the “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” formula, but I prefer the traditional “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

  15. My local parish 6:15 AM N.O. Mass was packed this morning. Nice to see, but where are they the rest of the year for this quiet daily Mass?
    I would have preferred the E.F. but its just so far to go on a busy weekday. The E.F. blessings for palms and ashes are so much more powerful – I’d prefer to receive those. But I do what I can.

    Attendance at Ash Wednesday always surprises me. I wonder that all kinds of people, not even Catholic, like to receive ashes, since being a Catholic in the state of grace is not a requirement? Back many years ago in college, my non-Catholic roommate happily accompanied me for ashes.

  16. Marc M says:

    Received at Mass this morning. Our parish also adds a 6:30, noon, and 5pm ash service, which I assume is shorter for those who can’t get away from work for it otherwise. I often reflect that I am extremely fortunate that my job allows me enough flexibility to work in daily Mass here and there.

    I also sometimes wonder about leaving ashes on, given that the Gospel for today (either form) contains the instruction, “when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face…”

    I have had similar experiences to Hyacinth above, though. “Oh yeah, it’s Ash Wednesday! I have to go to Mass after work!”

  17. Giuseppe says:

    Ash Wednesday brings out the PTA Catholics – Palms, Throats, and Ashes.

    [And… so? What is your point? Is this bad? Should they stay away?]

  18. Joseph-Mary says:

    I received my ashes from a lay person at holy Mass this morning. Father told us we do not need to punish ourselves during Lent but should seek some time for silence and prayer. I could only think of the call from Fatima: penance, penance, penance.

  19. anilwang says:

    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”

    I doubt the number who do are large. After all, getting Ashes on Ash Wednesday may not be a Holy Day of Obligation, but it is one thing a large number of Christmas and Easter Catholics (or even Baptism, Weddings, and Funeral Catholics) do, even if they do not do the mandatory fast.

    Now if they wanted to show off, they’d do a full monastic Byzantine fast and be a huge pain about it to everyone if a hint of nut products or oil is detected or on the first week if there is a hint of cooking. The obvious public wailing and penance if they slip up and eat a morsel of food before sunset is also required, if they really want to show off. Fortunately, there are enough annoying fanatic vegans out there that I doubt that many people who do the full monastic Byzantine fast do so to show off.

    I count it as a blessing that Ash Wednesday and Lent is the one area of Catholic faith that has not strayed from its original meaning and that most people who take part, are sincere.

  20. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    Our large uptown church was nearly full for noon NO Mass, a good turnout. I would say the congregation was 2/3 women and three women assisted the priest in distributing ashes, as well as a woman lector and a woman chantress. Where are the men? I was relieved to see two men take up the collection. The music was almost continuous and drippy, banal, and most uninspiring. Then I perked up for the closing hymn of the four-hymn sandwich, O Sacred Head Surrounded (J.S. Bach), but it was just dragged. I am grateful so many people were there, but they are trapped in an unnecessarily ugly liturgy. Would anyone buy a CD or go to a concert of that “music”? Back to the EF for me.

  21. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    I should add that the sermon was brief but emphasized prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and going to Confession. Bravo!

  22. Gerard Plourde says:

    Mass is at 5:30 this evening in my parish. As for the question of “to wash or not to wash”, it may be good for us to be conflicted. It can help remind us that we are called to witness the fact that God loves and cares for us sinners and that His grace is always available to us in times of temptation if we but ask for it.

  23. Imrahil says:

    There’s something good in keeping up the habits the mystical body of Christ has developed.

    Among which is that, while primarily it is necessary to fulfil one’s Sunday etc. obligations, there are a couple of other occasions that are treated with barely a difference to the obligations; that come, so to speak, immediately afterwards.

    Some more modern theologians claim that the commandments and precepts are nothing more than a “you really should; if not, it’s no problem either”. Wrong, of course. But such a category could be fitting for Church-going on these “not quite obligatory but come immediately afterwards” occasions.

    Among which (as I empirically perceive) Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday (liturgy or Stations), the cemetry blessing on All Saints, one May-service per year in honor of the Blessed Virgin and to attend not only one but two Masses for Christmas. (After all, the ones who don’t keep the obligations usually appear for one Mass for Christmas. – This was a joke.)

  24. oldconvert says:

    Our little parish Church was full for Mass this morning. But then it used to be for the Holydays of Obligation, too, till the English & Welsh Bishops virtually abolished them, by moving three to the Sunday following; rumour hath it that they are working on Christmas Day and Good Friday, next [ that’s a JOKE! I hope].
    Looking round the devout congregation this morning, it struck me it’s not the laity who have lost faith in this country, nor the parish clergy – it’s the hierarchy.

  25. Benedictus says:

    I have an interesting (but unscientific) take on this. It seems that on Ash Wednesday many people go to Mass even though it is not a Holy Day of Obligation. My take is that people like to hear that they must repent and are in need of God’s mercy. I think people also like to show that they are Catholic.

    My guess is that people have a yearning for the Traditional Devotions of Mother Church. We need to bring them back with Traditional Piety and not the syrupy or sugary sermons we often hear. Any thoughts?

  26. acardnal says:

    Watching C-SPAN TV today I observed a number of politicians, government workers and others with the ashen cross on their foreheads.

    I also have observed non-Catholic Christians attending Mass just to receive ashes! Perhaps that’s a sign they are on the path to full communion.

    I attended the noon-time Mass with Bishop Morlino as the main celebrant. One of the things he mentioned in his homily was the practice of “giving up” something for Lent. He suggested we give up not only money but time. Give more time to prayer.

  27. Alice says:

    I was organist for Mass and didn’t get down to get ashes. I didn’t have time to ask Father for them afterwards either because one of my children had an appointment. Oh well.

  28. Being eastern, no ashes, 2 days into lent already

  29. Elizabeth D says:

    I went to the Lutheran church bright and early for 7am Mass, where the church (ecclesial community meeting hall?! actually it looks more church like then plenty of Catholic churches, complete with high altar) was actually packed with Catholic students–the church was full. The UW Madison’s Saint Paul University Catholic Center is being torn down and during the year-and-a-half of building the new, bigger, better one the Catholics are using Luther Memorial Church (ELCA… of course). Yes, they use the Lutheran hymnals. At noon they were going to have an “ecumenical ash service.” Then there’s again a Catholic Mass (with candlelight) at 9pm (this is weekly… it is well attended). At the Lutheran church.

    They have Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction on Thursday mornings… at the Lutheran church.

    On Friday evenings there is Novus Ordo Mass in Latin which concluded last week with Salve Regina… at the Lutheran church.

    There are confessions heard half an hour before every Mass… at the Lutheran church.

    It will get old over a year and a half, but so far it is kind of fun. The Lutherans have been very kind.

  30. Mariana2 says:

    Went t0 Mass this evening, received ashes. All babies and children received ashes as well.

  31. APX says:

    I’m curious how many people went to Mass today and the cliché Ash Wednesday song, “Ashes” was sung while ashes were distributed.

  32. Paulo says:

    “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…”

    Our pastor is very particular about this, and commenting on todays Gospel, suggested to the teachers at the parish’s school that the children should wash them off, lest they wear it as a badge, and not as a symbol of penitence. Then he suggested that the kids should give up recess for Lent… (of course, he was joking; our pastor always engages the children in school masses, and his preaching is solid and serious. He got the younger part of the congregation worked up when he suggested, perhaps, they should try to leave computer games behind for the next 40 days..)

  33. cda_sister says:

    Some of our parishes have Liturgy of the Word service and distribution of ashes. Because of work and not getting home in time for our Mass, that is what I attended at a parish near my work. But I sure don’t like not having Mass.

  34. Sonshine135 says:

    I have no desire to go to Ash Wednesday Mass this year. I am following various forms of fast, abstinence, almsgiving and penance, and I know the importance of the season of Lent. Thank you Father for reaffirming that doesn’t make me a bad Catholic. I believe receiving ashes has become a bit of turn off to me lately. I see a lot of people wearing them like a badge of pious honor. Perhaps it was the whole Joe Biden thing a few years back when he appeared on national TV with ashes on his forehead, though you knew he didn’t give up his pro-abortion stance.

  35. david s says:

    Mass in English at 7:00 this morning. Ashes were imposed at the Communion rail to kneeling parishioners.

  36. Southern Baron says:

    My teaching schedule, early and through lunch, limited my options at my own parish, and the related work obligations limited my time to travel far afield–so I appreciated the 4 PM Liturgy of the Word/ashes service, led by permanent deacon. It was well-attended, including parents and children from the nearby public school. I’d much rather see people show up for these devotions, even if they are occasional attendees, than not at all.

  37. ChesterFrank says:

    It was Mass and ashes today. One thing I did notice this year is that many people around town had ashes that were more than the traditional forehead smudge. I saw a good number of people that had black crosses on their forehead that resembled finger-paint more than ash. Those ash cross’s were so pronounced that I could see them from at least 100 yards away. Is this the new trend?

  38. lmgilbert says:

    Geoffrey, you write.
    I prefer the traditional “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

    Probably not the best way to begin Lent, but I have been doing a slow burn over this issue all day long, for this untraditional “traditional” formula is the one used by deacon on me this morning.

    My quarrel with it is that it is NOT the traditional formula, which is, “Remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”

    For one thing, what was wrong with the elevated language of yore? Secondly, this inept re-formulation is surely politically correct, and that is what really steams me, that our liturgy bends to the howling winds of the feminist banshees. Our liturgy is not above the age, correcting it, molding it, but rather it is the age that molds our liturgy making it not only a thing of this century, but of this decade. It has become the plaything of the experts.

  39. DavidR says:

    Mass w/ashes @7p.m. Fr’s homily discussed the difference between a good reputation and good character.

  40. DavidR says:

    Addendum: we actually did an “Agnus Dei” – in LATIN!

  41. a catechist says:

    the noon daily Mass was more formal -and packed- with chanted Introit, penitential psalm at the offertory, some Propers chanted in Latin & use of black candlesticks and unbleached candles we usually see at the Requiem. Good homily, recession in silence, and gentle reminder to respect that silence until in the foyer… Liturgy is always good at cathedral, and someone who doesn’t come often surely got a good dose of the N.O. done well.

    Went to lunch late with my husband & our waiter said, “oh! I should go to church!” and asked us about Mass times – a lapsed Catholic looking for a parish & someone to pray for.

  42. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear acardinal,

    Thanks for sharing Bishop Morlino’s suggestion. It echoes the refrain “Spend some quiet time with the Lord” from The Little Black Book Lenten Vademecum initiated by Bishop Untener of the Diocese of Saginaw that is distributed in our parish each year.

  43. andia says:

    I went to Mass after work, got Ashes, chose the parish because the priest saying mass there is a friend and has just moved from one parish to this one. I did not think being a friendly face at his first Mass there was a bad thing.

  44. KateD says:

    a catechist, I’ve had similar experiences, which is why I try to get my ashes early, that way more people can be reminded and make it to Church that day to reclaim their Catholic identity.

    Preach all the time…..and some times use words :)

  45. Giuseppe says:

    Padre, no offense meant re. “PTA Catholics – Palms, Throats, and Ashes”
    Especially with throats and ashes, it shows how people are willing to come to church on a weekday for something they can skip. It loops back to blessings and having something tangible.
    I think it’s a good thing.

  46. acardnal says:

    Gerard Plourde, I am familiar with those booklets and have used them, but I have mixed feelings about their content sometimes.

  47. CPT TOM says:

    Went to a smaller parish than our home parish…Nothing fancy, Mass, no music, but very reverently celebrated by a retired priest. Both the Priest and the deacon who gave out the ashes used the “You are dust and to dust you shall return” invocation when putting the ashes on. Very quiet, but nice.

  48. Gerard Plourde says:

    acardinal – Agreed that the Black Book, as with any approved devotional writing, is only guaranteed concordance with Church teaching, not Infallibility. May this Lent bring us all closer to Our Lord.

  49. Iacobus M says:

    Thanks for the ablative absolute, Fr.

  50. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    I also miss “Remember, Man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” It is memorable not only for its elevated language (maybe normal 400 years ago but transformed by the changing of language around it into diction with a sacred connotation), but for its meter: perfect iambic tetrameter. That’s why it sticks in the head, unlike the flat, modern concoctions.

  51. doozer125 says:

    Ukrainian Greek Catholic…we didn’t have a Liturgy on Wednesday…I didn’t get ashes, that’s a Roman thing.

  52. Volanges says:

    APX asks “I’m curious how many people went to Mass today and the cliché Ash Wednesday song, “Ashes” was sung while ashes were distributed.”
    I don’t thin I’ve ever heard that particular song.
    In our parish we heard Laure Salo’s “I Will Sweep Away Your Transgressions”.

  53. Augustine says:

    On Ash Wednesday I receive ashes on my forehead for the 2nd time in the same week.

    I explain: in the Maronite Church, Lent begins on Ash Monday. But, since many come from all over to receive ashes at a Catholic churches, ashes were distributed after the liturgy on Wednesday again.

    Pax Christi

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