Papal Ash Wednesday Mass - Ashes Sprinkled on Heads

I just finished watching the live Papal Ash Wednesday Mass on EWTN in Rome. The Pope was sprinkling ashes atop people’s heads, not marking their foreheads. Is this new as of this year?
I wonder if my parish is doing the same today. I’ll soon find out.:slight_smile:
The Mass repeats at 6 p.m. eastern time on EWTN for those interested.:thumbsup:

Actually it’s old, as in apostolic times. Many Eastern Churches also follow this practice.

Yes, and I believe that Pope Benedict restored the practice. I actually wished I could have done that to the folks to whom I was distributing ashes.

There is an old painting dating back to the Middle Ages that showed the Pope distributing ashes in that manner. In fact, it appeared on the cover of the Papal Mass booklet (worship aid for the faithful) for Ash Wednesday 2007, I believe. I won it off of evil bay.

It is the custom in many Latin countries (such as Italy): “In Latin countries, such as Italy, this is done by sprinkling the ashes over the congregants.”

I never thought about it until reading this post, but here’s what the Sacramentary has to say “The priest then places ashes on those who come forward, saying to each…”

There’s no rubric which says that the ashes have to be placed on the foreheads, nor any saying that they must be “in the form of a cross.” I mention that because I have always thought “that’s how it’s done.”

The priest at our parish gave us the option to have them sprinkled in our hair/top of head or on our forehead.

He didn’t explain that the Pope advocated this or that it was from apostalic times.

Instead he said this was the custom in the Eastern rite.

It makes more sense to me to have them sprinkled in your hair/on top of your head.

Many Eastern Churches also follow this practice.

What Eastern Churches use ashes? It’s certainly not done in the Byzantine tradition.

**Instead he said this was the custom in the Eastern rite.

There’s no such thing as “the Eastern rite.”

I also think that this has been done in this manner when Nazism or communism was prevalent and it was dangerous to show the ashes in public.

I learned something today. :slight_smile:

Very cool! :thumbsup:
I might be concerned about getting the ash on my clothing.


Next year, wear sack-cloth!

So THAT’S why they wore sack-cloth!:smiley:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit