"Why did you participate in the celebration of the Ashes ceremony?"

By Paul Dion, STL

Ash Wednesday is a very popular day on the Catholic calendar. It is attractive to people for many reasons. Some of the attraction comes from the fact that many people don't have the slightest idea why the date of this popular Catholic event keeps changing from year to year.

Another part of the attraction is that it gives Catholics the one chance in the year that they have to proclaim that they are Catholics. It is the one visible, cultural sign that makes Catholics feel authentic. It is attractive because those who go to work for the day shift have living proof that their Mardi Gras celebration wasn't bad enough to keep them down.

It is so attractive that many parishes in the United States schedule more Masses on Ash Wednesday than they do on December 8, the patron feast day of the United States itself, and a Holy Day of Obligation, when Mass participation is mandatory.

Participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not mandatory on Ash Wednesday. The reception of the ashes is not a sacramental act such as Communion or Confirmation or the Anointing of the Sick.

So now that we have given you a set of attractions why attendance at church is so high on this day, we invite you to tell the world the answer to's Burning Question of the week:

"Why did you participate in the celebration of the Ashes ceremony?"

Let us know what you think. Post your comment today.


  1. Anonymous10:52 PM

    The priest at Ash Wednesday Mass Mass this morning reminded us that receiving the ashes is an acknowledgement to God that we want to repent for our sins. He then proceeded to challenge everyone that those who are not sincere about repentance should not receive the ashes. I accepted the ashes because I truly want to repent my sins and I look to Ash Wednesday as a new beginning.

  2. Georgina GB in Des Moines10:53 PM

    I want to proclaim to the world that I am Catholic and I love Jesus. That is why I received the ashes today.

  3. Maria D. from Bakersfield, CA10:58 PM

    I received the ashes to be blessed. But the ashes minister refused to give it to my infant son. I want my son to be blessed as well but I was holding up the line so I moved on. She said the baby didn't know what it was about. The minister was not rude but was she out of line?

  4. Maria,

    It is a good thing to receive a blessing, but I think she was right. Your baby has no sins to repent of, and thus it is probably a good thing what she said. It would retain the dignity of the ritual...

    I couldnt receive the ashes today, but wanted to because I had school. I asked the professor, but she didnt give me a clear answer of approval.

    I think it is the most attended because perhaps deep down Catholics want to have ways they can tell the world, "Hey, I am Catholic!"

    God Bless,

  5. R.D. Barrientos8:50 AM

    Many people receive the ashes to proclaim to the world that they are Catholics and rightly so. But telling the world we are Catholics is not what is most important. I pray that each one who received the ashes for this purpose would take it one step further and accept into their hearts the love of Jesus for them and pass it on to everyone they know. That to me is what being Catholic is all about. Being Catholic goes way beyond the ashes and way beyond simply proclaiming it. Being Catholic is all about Jesus.

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  7. I agree with R. D. To proclaim that you are Catholic because you wear the badge of ashes on your forehead once a year is not enough. As Catholics we are commanded by Christ to follow Him and to go forth and bring the message to all people. Living life that way cannot be accomplished in one day with one smudge on the forehead.

  8. Anonymous5:41 AM

    I normally receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, but did not this year. Our parish has only one Mass in the evening (I work during the day) which was Bilingual so it's always packed to the brim and I didn't want to stand.

    But I have a question: we always attend Sunday Mass and on all Holy Days - just as my parents did. My mother once remarked to me that non-practicing Catholics tend to go to Mass on three days: Christmas, Easter, & Ash Wednesday. Otherwise, they avoid going to church, but they feel they MUST be there on Ash Wednesday to receive those ashes, and, judging from attendance at almost every Ash Wednesday celebration I've ever attended, it would appear she's right. What is the reason for this? I'm not opposed to them receiving ashes, but I've always been curious why otherwise non-participating Catholics feel it's ultra important to go to Mass to receive ashes on a non-obligatory day of the year while they shun going to church almost completely on most REQUIRED days of the year.

    Thank you.

  9. Anonymous8:27 AM

    It reminds me that we are all sinners, but God will forgive us and accept us. We need to take this time during lent to remember this and prayerfully think about our sins and turn away from them. Recieving the ashes is my way of beginning my lenten journey

  10. In response to "Why do non participating Catholics feel it's ultra important to go to Mass to receive ashes on a non-obligatory day while they shun going to church almost completely on required days...?

    The quick and dirty response is, superstition. The more nuanced answer is much more complex and requires some conjecture because we can't see into the hearts of those who do this.

    One reason is culture. There are a lot of cultural Catholics in the world. Without going out of my way to offend anyone, it is easy to identify who they might be: Irish, French, Italian, Filipino, Polish, Spanish and Latin American. It's like saying that if you're from Scandinavia, your going to be Lutheran. Ashes on Ash Wednesday mark cultural Catholics into their complete identity, one part of which is Catholic. To receive ashes on Ash Wednesday is merely an external sign of a measure of compliance with the laws of the Church, not a sign of true affiliation with the Church, the Bride of Christ.

    It is also an act of courage and defiance. I have a Boston Irish friend who never has missed neither an Ash Wednesday nor a Red Sox game. He is a Catholic and he is proud of it and he's out to show the crazy SOB's who are not Catholic that they should not mess with him. After all, he has God on his side. He'll tell you that he defended himself in many a fist fight on Ash Wednesday as he was growing up. I have no doubt that there a lot of cultural Catholics who feel the same way. It's their way of telling the world, "I'm Catholic".

    Another reason is benefits. To be marked by ashes is a sign that even without being a disciple of Christ in the full understanding of the Catholic definition of such, it is possible to be an authentic Catholic. It is therefore presumed that the other services and spiritual benefits of the Church are available upon demand because I accept to declare kmy Catholicism once a year in the public forum.

    So, four short paragraphs in response. Let me add one short one in exhortation:
    There is only one judge in the universe, God. There is only one Church that he calls his bride. We have to learn to appreciate His relationship with His bride on His terms, not ours. We are all called to Him. Those who stay closest to the flame get burned first and worst. Those who stay close enough to be warm are His too. I exhort you (and me) to nurture and share the grace that infuses us with His life for His greater glory. Let Him be God. Let Him use those who swim in the holy water font every day as the refreshment for those who only dip their toe in it three times a year. He's in charge. Thank Him for what He gives us and ask Him to give more to those who need more. They may not be the ones who only come to church on Ash Wednesday.

  11. When I said "I think it is the most attended because perhaps deep down Catholics want to have ways they can tell the world, 'Hey, I am Catholic!'", I didnt mean to imply that people only go to Ash Wednesday Mass for that reason alone. There are deeper reasons. The ones who are probably active enough to even go to a Catholic website such as this, would mean they have some semblance of understanding. The A&P Christians (Ashes and Palms), if this is merely a superstition, participates in some way, idolatry, since the Ashes can be seen as a "sign of Salvation"... Whether they are culpable for this, has to be proportionate to the degree of instruction they recieved, or lack thereof. In which case, the teacher, shall be judged more severely. Parents, be on guard; teach your children!