Ashes to Go?

ashesSo here we are again: Ash Wednesday on the calendar and a number of Episcopal clergy standing on street corners offering “ashes to go.”  It’s hard to imagine actions in more direct conflict with the Bible readings for the day:

(Jesus said), “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And 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.”   St. Matthew 6:5-6, 16-18

So what do we have?  Clergy standing on street corners where they may be seen by others disfiguring by-passers faces so they may appear to others to be fasting!  Can someone explain this to me?


Andre TrevathanMarch 4th, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Auctor, your comment on apparent conflict with ATG and the readings for Ash Wednesday has become even more of a quandary for me lately, since I was asked if I would be interested in participating in administering Ash Wednesday ashes at a major railroad station in the northeast.

Quandary, for I have been charged in the past with evangelic literalism in interpreting the Matthean gospel by placing bowls of water and towels at church doors for those who wish to wash their faces (no obligation) on the way out. if we are invited to impose ashes on those of the public who wish to receive them, how are we to at least indicate–by signage or verbally– that there even is a tension between a symbol custom beloved of SOME CHRISTIANS and the deeper demands of the Gospel?
Besides, separating the act of imposing ashes from the rest of the Ash Wednesday liturgy seems to me to smack of ecclesiastical triumphalism or “Catholic Lite.”
In a country that officially rejects religious establishment, who gets to go public with visual symbols and who doesn’t? And, finally, who explains and/or interprets Ashes To Go on a crowded sidewalk or in a large public room, to people in a hurry?

Lisa FoxMarch 5th, 2014 at 4:41 am

I was grateful for this priest’s comments: He speaks my mind about the whole “Ashes to Go” phenomenon.

AnnMarch 5th, 2014 at 5:03 am

“new occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth” as the hymn says. I have been back and forth about Ashes to Go. I grew up with the injunction about not doing it — but hear the hunger in the streets too. Here are a variety of opinions about the practice:

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