Who places the ashes on Ash Wednesday?

I’ve searched the forums high and low and no luck.

I’ve heard that at our parish, lay people place the ashes on the foreheads at Ash Wednesday. With all the discussion about lay people (EHMCs) giving “illegal” blessings, I’m wondering if this practice is OK?


It appears to be. And it does not apper to be a blessing; rather, it is a call to metanoia - to “turning around” our life.


The Book of Blessings does allow for lay people to assist with the distribution of ashes. Ashes are a sacramental and may be distributed to any baptized Christian as well.

A Lay person can not bless the ashes, but they may when necessary (not enough Ordained ministers) place the already blessed ashes on the foreheads of those who come forward.

Even an un-Baptized person can receive ashes, also small children who are in a perfect state of Grace.

anyone the priest delegates may do this. no blessing is involved, any of the forumulas used is a call to conversion
the blessing is done over the ashes, by the priest, at the first Mass of the day or subsequently if needed (we go through tons, and ashes don’t weigh much)

anyone, Catholic or not, baptized or not, may receive ashes as all are called to the gospel and called to conversion.

ashes are a sacramental, not a sacrament, so it is no more improper for lay people to distribute than it would be for them to give out rosaries or medals which have already been blessed by the priest.

That is what I thought but the article seems to say otherwise.

According to this canon, such blessings may be given to non-Catholics unless prohibited elsewhere by law. There is no such prohibition in liturgical law, but there is a restriction. The Book of Blessings says:
[LEFT]The season of Lent begins with the ancient practice of marking the baptized with ashes as a public and communal sign of penance (no. 1656).[/LEFT]
[LEFT]Ashes may be imposed upon baptized non-Catholics, but not unbaptized persons. Persons not yet regenerated through the Sacrament of Baptism cannot, properly speaking, do penance, nor can they share in the “communal” aspect of the sign. Baptism is the gateway to the community of God’s faithful people. [/LEFT]

the non-baptized in question should be those who are doing so as a sign of seeking conversion, in other words, the catechumens or those intending to enter the catechumenate. For anyone else to do so makes no sense, and they are probably doing it for cultural reasons rather than out of a conviction, but no one is going to stop and demand to see the baptismal certificate of everyone who approaches.

LOL - Tell you what - go to one of the Masses at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC on Ash Wednesday and watch everyone (Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and many others) reverently receive ashes. One more thing I love about New York!

Sacramentals, which ashes are, when received by an un-Baptized person can depending on their disposition, provide them with Actual Grace and call them to Conversion.

Seatuck, the article that you quote has this to say, prior to the quote that you extracted:

The Code of Canon Law, canon 1170 prescribes:

Can. 1170 Blessings which are to be imparted first of all to Catholics, can also be given to catechumens and even to non-Catholics unless there is a prohibition of the Church to the contrary.

This canon is under the section on sacramentals. While we know that non-Catholics cannot have access to Catholic sacraments, except for a just cause under various circumstances, sacramentals may be more widely participated in by others. Ashes are considered by the Church a sacramental. Therefore, the imposition of ashes upon non-Catholics falls under canon 1170.

This is an article in a magazine quoting the canon, but the canon does seem pretty clear.

my parish at times uses eucharistic ministers to distribute the blessed ashes. I did so a couple of times.

The Blessing is conveyed by the priest on to the ashes. Any person may distribute the ashes, in exactly the same way that any person may adminster Holy Water to themselves or others.

This is liturgically the same as a person dipping their finger into a holy water bowl and blessing themselves.

The blessing originates with the priest, and not by the person who admisters the holy water.

Extra Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion would be the normal person to take ashes to the people who are home-bound when there are not enough Deacons.

The ancient custom was not just that the baptized received ashes. The Catholic Encyclopedia points out that, from early times, “all the faithful” were “exhorted” to receive ashes at the beginning of Lent. It doesn’t say that other people couldn’t receive them, or that you have to be a certain age.

The even more ancient custom of putting ashes on your head in mourning or penitence is pre-Christian and even pre-Jewish. So…

Basically, anybody who’s penitent, or whose parents want them to receive ashes, can do so, albeit at the pastor’s discretion. Given that pretty much every human has reason to be penitent, it’s certainly proper for people to be drawn to this sacramental.

As I wrote in 2007, post #6 of forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=134133 :

… Who can distribute the ashes on Ash Wednesday?
In the USA there is the following, from the Book of Blessings:
“1659 This rite may be celebrated by a priest or deacon who may be assisted by lay ministers in the distribution of the ashes. The blessing of the ashes, however, is reserved to a priest or deacon.” (The rite being referred to is the distribution of ashes outside of Mass). …

I am not aware of any permission for lay people to distribute ashes outside of the USA. In the USA there is no permission for lay people to distribute ashes in Mass.

The Roman Missal has “The priest then places ashes on those who come forward, saying to each: …” (page 77)

The Ceremonial of Bishops has:
“257 After the blessing, the appointed minister, a concelebrant or a deacon, places ashes on the bishop, as the bishop bows before him, and says, Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel or Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return.
258 Then the bishop again puts on the mitre and, seated at the chair or standing, places ashes on the concelebrants, the ministers, and the faithful. The bishop may be assisted if necessary by some of the concelebrants or deacons.”

In the United Methodist Church that I was apart of before my conversion I had to do the distribution of ashes once when the minister was sick. That was a rather intresting night because the organist had to prepair the ashes and then I had the job of distributing. The UMW (United Methodist Women) luckly were in charge of the rest of the service. :smiley:

The permission to distribute the ashes during a Mass is the same as outside the Mass (e.g. immediately before or after the Mass, or at another time) - a lay person can assist. The comments about the bishop are relevant only to the Mass with the bishop celebrating, so it is not relevant to other Masses. The comment about the priest distributing is not a comment that is exclusive of others, as it is not a blessing (the blessing being what the priest does over the ashes before distribution).

Rome does not write every rule with all possible permutations each time an issue is mentioned; but one looks to other documents if there is such a question as this.

And no, I cannot cite you to a specific source; it comes from experience of watching these issues. It is similar to the issue from the GIRM about standing until all have received; Rome’s comment about not intending to be that rigid applies at least indirectly.

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