Q/ I usually go to Mass on Ash Wednesday in the morning. I go to work with ashes on my forehead, as a proud sign of being Catholic. But I notice that some people wipe ashes off their forehead after they leave the church building. Is this allowed?
A. On Ash Wednesday, Catholics who attend Mass are sprinkled or marked with ashes as a reminder of our mortality, and of the gravity of our sinfulness. In the United States, ashes are usually marked on the forehead as a cross, but there are a variety of liturgical practices, some of which leave more of a “mark” than others. In many countries, ashes are sprinkled atop the head, and never leave a visible mark.
The important thing about ashes is what they represent. When ashes are distributed, the priest will say “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Hearing these words, and remembering our need for Jesus Christ, is the meaning of our Ash Wednesday practices.
There is no obligation to leave ashes on the forehead for a particular period of time. Some wipe them off right away, some leave them for the day. Certainly, every Catholic should wipe them away before Easter!
Write to Ask the Register online or at 3700 Sheridan Blvd, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.