Portrait of Retha Bellamy who was given ashes today during an Ash Wednesday mass led by Cardinal Donald Wuerl in Washington, DC on March 8, 2011. (Linda Davidson - THE WASHINGTON POST)
Posted at 07:45 PM ET, 02/12/2013
By Mary Ann Walsh
Ash Wednesday, the day to be unabashedly Catholic, is February 13. It’s the day when a smudge on the forehead, for those who understand it, means I’ll try to be better. I’ll do what Lent asks: more prayer, more sacrifice, more almsgiving.
Those who administer ashes on another’s brow can use either a formula emphasizing hope: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” or one of stark reality: “Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return.”
Anecdotal reports say there are more Catholics in church on Ash Wednesday, which is not a holy day of obligation, than on Sunday, which is. Is it because Ash Wednesday comes but once a year? Some clergy will administer ashes at train stations for those on the run, assuaging their guilt for not getting to church and letting them call home to say, “Hey, Mom. Guess where I got ashes today?”
Even if other Christian denominations – including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians –also celebrate Ash Wednesday, sporting ashes seems especially prominent among Catholics. In fact, it is one of those signs of Catholic identity that people notice on the street and in the workplace.