Ashes, ashes

When I was growing up in a very small town in western New York State, you could tell who the Roman Catholics were because they came to school on Ash Wednesday with a smudge on their forehead. Episcopalians, on the other hand, came to school late on Ash Wednesday because they had been to church and had heard the gospel read that admonished them: “when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret . . .”
Fast forward fifty years to find me retired and serving two small congregations in northwestern Connecticut and going to an ecumenical clergy meeting at which Methodists and Congregationalists were consulting each other about where to get ashes for Ash Wednesday!
What changed?
In recent years I have heard of Episcopal clergy going out into the streets to offer “ashes on the go” to people with no time to get to church who were, nevertheless, glad to have their faces disfigured.
What am I not getting?
This year the question has been how to get ashes while socially distanced. Can little packets of ashes be distributed and people smudge themselves?
I suppose I have only one question: “If you appear unto men to fast” will you in fact be fasting?

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