Ashes

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - RELIGION -

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.

Mod­ern-day prac­tice

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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