13 February 2013

ashes to ashes

photo (c) Pikku Arkki Valokuvaus, used with permission

Trinity Communications, over at CatholicCulture.org, say:
On Ash Wednesday small children are thrilled to receive ashes. We can tell them simply that ashes are placed on our foreheads to remind us that someday we will die and go home to heaven.
It's a post worth reading in full.

Similarly, Carolyn, at Worshiping with Children, writes, The imposition of ashes is amazing to children, but she also notes that:
Other than Good Friday, Ash Wednesday is probably the day on which children are least expected or planned for in the sanctuary. 
And she has excellent suggestions for how to change that.

In the Church of England, as priests mark you with ashes, they say, Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. In Finland, (Lutheran) priests tend to say something like, Receive the cross, a sign of repentance. If you feel that your child will not cope well with a heavy emphasis on mortality and death at this time, repentance is an alternative theme to emphasise. (This is something also said by both blogs that I linked to above.) Carolyn also mentions the theme of belonging. Many Roman Catholics assume that ashes mark someone off as Catholic; they certainly mark us off on Ash Wednesday as a certain kind of practicing Christian.

All this to say, I hope you'll feel able to take your children to church today. Or, if in the United States, even to seek out Ashes to Go.

licensed photo, used with permission
© Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk
*     *     *     *     *

For me and for my church this year, we've already had a stark reminder of our mortality: one of our church wardens was found dead yesterday morning. It would seem that she died in her sleep. She had attended a council meeting less than 24 hours before her death and seemed as fit as ever. I believe she was 72 years old.

To my mind Madeline was one of the friendliest and most welcoming people at that church. She could be very frank, yet also came across as accepting. She seemed to be someone you could rely on entirely - an excellent church warden in that regard!

The church organist announced loudly to a small group of us that Madeline had planned her funeral some years earlier, right down to a set of hymns that he claimed had been chosen expressly to annoy him: hymns she knew he didn't like playing. I hope he is able to chuckle about it rather than find that hurtful. If so, I will chuckle along as well!

UPDATE: I checked, and our priest says that the organist "liked the idea of the hymns and will remember Madeline with fondness as he plays." That's exactly as I had hoped it would be.


  1. Our children had their first experience with ashes on their forehead today and they were very excited about it. We went to a Catholic church near our home, because the Protestant/Lutheran churches in Germany don't have this tradition, even though they observe Lent. Thanks for sharing those two articles as well and about Madeline.

    1. Thanks, Sheila. For years and years my very Protestant father has gone to lunchtime mass at a Catholic church in order to get ashes on Ash Wednesday. And yes, good as well to recognise that for many Protestants, even among those who do observe Lent, the imposition of ashes is just not helpful or meaningful. At our service today the priest made it clear that we could each decide for ourselves whether or not we wanted ashes. Less than half the congregation chose to have them.


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