Self-serve ashes?

A nearby parish is holding three prayer services (with distribution of ashes) and an evening Mass (with distribution of ashes) tomorrow… but the pastor is also leaving a bowl of ashes (along with a card containing a prayer and/or blessing) in the body of the church for people who can’t attend any of the services. The idea being, they can administer the ashes to themselves (or to another person who comes with them).

I suppose this is licit, since ashes are a sacramental. But… it still seems weird to me. Anyone else’s parish do this?

I have not. However, I was told years ago that distribution of the ashes could be a private or family devotion creating the ashes from last year’s (blessed) palms. Similar logic, I guess – albeit nothing I felt the urge to do . . .

Actually the ashes produced by the palms are not themselves blessed after being burned. The ashes produced are then blessed by the priest before being used. A lay person cannot bless the ashes themselves. The ash produced by burning the plams does not produce blessed ashes.

Why not? Lay people can bless other objects themselves, like houses, cars, and Bibles.

Probably because the blessing of ashes is properly a liturgical blessing (that is, a blessing and an object which are oriented to liturgical use) which requires the ordained priesthood.

I would suggest checking the Book of Blessings.


The Church does provide for a rite where the ashes are blessed and distributed (either within or without Mass). If this is done as a liturgical service then those liturgical laws apply. Outside of that, there is no “regulation” on what must/may/may not happen with the ashes.

However, there is nothing outright prohibiting a person from using ashes (blessed or not) on himself or someone else. This isn’t like, for example, Eucharistic Adoration where the Church regulates the practice. Saying that it isn’t strictly forbidden, though, isn’t the same thing as saying that it’s a “proper” thing to do. It sounds like your pastor is making a pastoral judgment that he sees a genuine need to make these blessed ashes available to those who are unable to attend the proper liturgical service. Given the fact that he has scheduled 4 opportunities for people to take part in the proper service, it certainly does not seem like he’s trying to discourage participation at them, nor trying to replace the Church’s ritual with some kind of private ceremony. It seems that he’s simply trying to deal with the difficult issue of scheduling in our busy world.

The best option, of course, is for people to participate in the liturgical service of the Church. If this isn’t possible, then there’s nothing wrong or improper about putting ashes on one’s own forehead, or that of another.

Remember that the distribution of ashes is not a blessing (as others have pointed-out the ashes are blessed by the priest or deacon but the distribution part is not a blessing).

This isn’t exactly something new. When I was young, back in the 1950’s, I remember a bowl of ashes being placed on a table by the holy water font in the main aisle of the nave. My great-grandmother was bedridden for several years and each Ash Wednesday, my grandfather would bring a small silver box with him to the Mass. Afterwards, he would put a small amount of ashes from the bowl into his box, take them home and place them on his mother’s forehead.
I hadn’t noticed it done again until five or six years ago when I noticed a similar type bowl at my Cathedral. I think it is a wonderful idea.

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