Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Clean It Or Leave It?

Today is Ash Wednesday.   It's the first day of Lent, a period of prayer and fasting before Easter.  On this day, Catholics are easily identifiable; we're the ones sporting a black mark on our foreheads.

The black mark is ashes, a symbol of the need to repent, confess our sins, and return to God.  I went to Mass this morning before work.  After the homily, we received the ashes.  Usually the priest is the one who does it, but because we have such a large church, several ministers also assisted. When it was my turn, I stepped up to the minister, who dipped her thumb in the ashes and, making the Sign of the Cross on my forehead, said, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel".   The mark is supposed to be a cross, but some of the people administering the ashes were a little better artists than others; some of the crosses looked like a smudge.

After Mass I had a decision to make.  For many years I've worked in places that were heavily Catholic, so everyone had a black mark on their forehead.  This year, though, I was torn. Should I leave the ashes on, or clean them off?  I could think of reasons for both:
  • Clean it off:  In one of the Mass readings for today, Jesus says “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting.”  By leaving the ashes on, was I trying to insinuate I was holy?
  • Leave it on:  Every time I look in a mirror and see the mark on my face, it's a reminder of my desire to try and be a better person during Lent.  It's also a sign to other people of what I'm trying to do.
In the end I left the ashes alone (and was glad I did).  My choice led to some interesting conversations I wouldn't have had otherwise.  I thought everyone knew about Ash Wednesday, but several people asked me why I had "stuff" on my forehead, so I did my best to explain.


  1. Art saw somebody with ashes on their forehead today and said, "I forgot it was Ash Wednesday." I don't see a lot of Catholics in our area so it would have been interesting to anyone who saw it.

  2. One man at the auction had his ash smudge on. :) I've never seen it drawn like a cross...only a fingerprint of it.

  3. Good for you. I once sat through the fastest government meeting on record so two of the three officials could get to the last mass.

  4. Good for you! And are you giving anything up for Lent?