Ashes to ashes to ashes...


I received the 13 May issue of OUR SUNDAY VISITOR yesterday (15 May), and I read with interest an article on the topic of the ashes of Ash Wednesday. The writer, one Msgr. Mannion, noted that in earlier centuries, penitents were expected to keep wearing ashes for a significant period of time.:confused:

Which brings to my mind two questions.

  1. If a local Priest were to offer you a daily dose of ashes on your forehead for the entire period of Lent, as a penance, would you accept that penance? On a strictly voluntary basis, of course.:o

  2. But should you do such a public penance? Would there be a danger of slipping over into Spiritual Pride at wearing ashes daily? OK, in the earlier centuries, when just about everyone was Catholic, and penitents were thick on the ground, this would probably not be a problem. But in the 21st Century?:frowning: :

My own answers would be yes and yes, but I would have to get permission from my Spiritual Director first.:yup:


I am just guessing but the purpose of the penitent wearing the ashes for a long period of time, along with sackcloth or some other penitential garment, was to do public penance, not only to show his contrition but to acknowledge the debt he owed the community for his sin. Its benefit depended in large part on the community seeing and responding to the sign. Nowdays if someone sees you with ashes on a day other than Ash Wed they would assume your face is dirty, and in any case their is no value in our society today for this communal act since the community would not recognize its value or even that you are doing it.

We call it the sacrament of penance and reconciliation because the sacrament itself also heals the rift with the community. the priest may assign some token penance for the benefit of the penitent so he acknowledges that debt, but in keeping with the confidential nature of confession it would also be a private penance. In fact, wearing ashes on Ash Wed is a communal act, an extension of the confiteor at Mass when we all acknowledge our debt to God and to each other.


Excellent reply! Thereโ€™s no point doing the pointless.

Far better to pray, do good acts and accept the daily cross as penance than any other thing.


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