Q: A question has arisen about who may receive ashes on Ash Wednesday:
- Children baptized as infants who have not yet made their first communion (or who have not yet reached the age of reason and therefore not capable of conscious sin)?
- Unbaptized students in Catholic schools (since “it’s not communion they are ‘welcome’” to participate and ‘get’ what the Catholics ‘get’”)? (A futher clarification about the unbaptized students – many of them are Muslim.)
As always, thank you for your wise insights.
A: If you just work from the liturgical text, the ashes have an unapologetically Christian meaning. They are made from palm branches used to acclaim Christ as king. They are blessed with the intention that they will help those who receive them to gain “newness of life after the likeness of [God’s] Risen Son.” They are sprinkled with holy water. They are frequently administered in the form of a cross.
But when it comes time for the distribution, the rubric in the missal says that the the priest administers them on “all those present who come to him.” However, the Ceremonial of Bishops describes what happens when “the faithful” receive ashes (253). The presumption is that believers are coming forward, but in truth these citations do not forbid others from participating.
If Christian parents wish their children to be included in the distribution, I see no problem with it. If Muslims wish to participate, nothing explicitly says that they may not. If it becomes a means of evangelization, or a way that they feel comfortable worshiping, I see no rule against it.