How Ash Wednesday ashes are made
The ashes smudged on people’s foreheads to mark the Christian holy day Ash Wednesday were made from the blessed palm fronds distributed at last year’s Palm Sunday services, which mark the beginning of the week before Easter.
At Mount Saint Peter Parish in New Kensington, palm fronds were put into a tub and burned Tuesday in the church parking lot, tended to by members Vinnie Hannon and Jerry Garvey.
“We have parishioners that bring in the palms from the previous year, and that’s what makes the ashes for (Ash Wednesday),” parish secretary Sherri Baker said.
The 1,600-family parish always has produced its ashes this way, and the 8:30 a.m. Mass on Wednesday was full and included students from Mary Queen of Apostles School.
The church’s pastor, the Rev. Michael J. Begolly, explained the significance of Lent. It’s a time of prayer, fasting and sharing with others in preparation for Easter, when Christ’s resurrection is marked.
Lenten traditions vary from parish to parish and diocese to diocese, according to the Rev. Nicholas J. Vaskov, Pittsburgh Diocesan spokesman.
“I would say every parish is different,” Vaskov said.
Some churches buy prepared ashes from religious retailers, where they can be had for about $6 for 10 grams.
But all ashes used on Ash Wednesday are supposed to be made from blessed palm fronds.
Churches that make their own ashes give their members a way to properly dispose of their aging palms because religious items that have been blessed aren’t supposed to be thrown away, Vaskov said.
“The image of ashes throughout the scripture is one of repentance. To have that sign of ashes is that call to conversion of heart,” he said. “It’s an outward sign of a movement of the heart. We mark our forehead with ashes for ourselves as we look in the mirror and as an external sign of what we have in our heart.”
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .