Ash Wednesday is also well known as “There is something on your forehead” Wednesday as we proudly head out from the Eucharist into the secular world witnessing to our faith and declaring to the world that we have begun the Lenten fast [even to the point of #ashtag selfies here and here] …. ummmm…. just having heard Jesus tell us
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven… whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
I have known catholic-minded clergy abandon imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday because of the Gospel reading. And it is a regular attack by romaphobes and the usual selectively-biblically-literalists [I was again attacked about it on twitter this year].
In fact there is a tradition quite different to the conspicuous cross of ash on the forehead – it is sprinkling ash on top of the head (see photo at the top and video below). If anyone knows how/when (etc) the ash cross developed – do let us know in the comments.
Rubrics are satisfied (we’ve been reading into them what actually isn’t there):
“The ashes are imposed” Book of Common Prayer (TEC) p265
“marked with ash … imposition of ashes” Common Worship (CofE)
“The Priest places ashes on the head of all those present who come to him” RC Missal
I have updated the Ash Wednesday service in Celebrating Eucharist.
image source and further reflection