vor in non-Catholic denominations. However, it returned in the 19th century when many Protestant churches entered into intentional dialogue with each other and with the Catholic Church, a phenomenon that is called the “ecumenical movement.”
Today most “mainline” denominations, including Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians and others allow for the “imposition”
In some churches, the ashes are obtained by burning the palms blessed in the previous year’s Palm Sunday service.
(as called in Catholic and Episcopalian prayer books) of ashes during an Ash Wednesday service. In some churches, the ashes are obtained by burning the palms blessed in the previous year’s Palm Sunday service — a time for Christians to remember Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem days before he was crucified. The resultant ash, depending on local practice, might then be mixed with oil to make them adhere more easily to the forehead.
In recent years several churches have put a new spin on the traditional Ash Wednesday service by providing what has been called “ashes to go.” In this new take on an ancient practice, a pastor stands in a very public, often busy, place and offers the ashes to any passersby who wishes to receive them, whether or not the person is Christian.
Stories abound of pastors providing “drivethrough ashes” in which the penitent does not even have to get out of the car. A website called “ashes to go” provides not only a list of global sites at which one can receive ashes in this way, but also has an FAQ section containing advice for churches contemplating such a service.
For a supremely ironic twist on Ash Wednesday, one only has to observe that the Gospel reading appointed for the day is from Matthew, chapter 6. Here Jesus rails against religious hypocrisy by criticizing those whose religious piety is done mainly for show:
“Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Christians bearing the sign of the cross on their forehead share a formal practice that dates back over a thousand years, and more than that — in a tradition that goes back much earlier.
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