A priest I know enjoys laying it on really thick when people step up on Ash Wednesday. Some walk away so sooty that they look like they’d spent the afternoon sweeping chimneys. It’s one of the odd customs we Catholics cling to — and today it may be more poignant than ever. It’s a way of boldly declaring your faith at a time when many people have turned away from the Church.
But just the pandemic has changed everything, it’s changing Ash Wednesday.
This year, instead of receiving a vaguely cross shaped schmear on the forehead, ashes will instead be sprinkled over the heads of the faithful. That sounds unorthodox, but Father Anthony Barratt, director of Prayer and Worship in the Diocese of Albany, told the Evangelist that it’s in line with tradition. “There is a very ancient, biblical and scriptural way of having ashes for repentance (and) to have them sprinkled on your head. Its roots are deep in Scripture.”
My wife has described this like a sprinkling of fairy dust, but a Twitter friend came up with a better comparison: it could be like Emeril Lagasse, slinging the ashes at your head and yelling, “BAM!” You gotta admit, that would be pretty great.
So, what about having people impose — that’s the word the Church uses, not me — the ashes on themselves, or have someone in their social circle administer them? Lay people may apply ashes to each other as long as the ashes are blessed. And as for doing it yourself? That would certainly result in the funniest As Wednesday ever, unless we have people do it in from of a mirror.