Ash Wednesday

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: I have been wondering what is “allowed” in Catholic tradition and liturgy for distribution of ashes.

There is a movement called “Ashes To Go” started by 3 Episcopal congregations in Chicago in 2010, that has gone international.  “Ashes to Go” is a way of taking church to the streets, meeting people in the midst of daily life with a moment of grace.  Are Catholic churches allowed to participate in something like this and take ashes outside of the church building?  I know Catholic chaplains participate in Ash Wednesday services in hospitals, but is it okay to think outside the box and find ways to meet the people where they are?  I have often said that if we created Ash Wednesday drive-thru opportunities they would be crowded, and if we put up a sign asking for a donation, we would get it.

During the pandemic, there were many different opportunities created to bring God to the people, and ashes were sprinkled on the head rather than used to make the sign of the cross.  

But what is really allowed?  What about those who are homebound?

A book I read shows how people are connected to Ash Wednesday and how our communities need to build upon that.  The author lists a variety of places to distribute ashes, and adds “Adaptations can be made as your tradition allows.”  What does the Catholic tradition” allow”?

Thanks for all you do!


A: The ceremonies pertaining to Ash Wednesday are found in the Roman Missal and in the Book of Blessings. The former describes the distribution of ashes during Mass, and the latter describes the procedure outside of Mass.

Chapter 52 of the Book of Blessings delineates an Order of Blessing like any other: introductory rites, opening prayer, reading of the Word of God, blessing of ashes (if they have not yet been blessed), distribution of ashes, intercessions and concluding rites.

Paragraph 1657 says “According to circumstances, the rite may be abbreviated by the minister. Nevertheless, at least one Scripture reading should be included in the service.”

The Catholic Church does not promote drive-thru ashes. The ashes are a sign of one’s change of heart. This is best accomplished when those asking for ashes take the time to go to church and devote themselves to communal prayer and a hearing of the Word of God.

Ashes aren’t cheap.