Why wear ashes and for how long?

I was wondering if there was any “policy” concerning the wearing of ashes on Ash Wednesday. My understanding is that the receiving of ashes is to be a reminder to Christians that they are entering a special season. But it kind of surprises me when I see folks going to work, wearing businesswear, with a big smudge on their forehead.

Who gets ashes and why?

What is more important, the receiving of ashes or the wearing of them?

Is it supposed to be humbling, making yourself look unusual wearing an external sign of your faith for one day? Or is it a kind of bragging or advertising? Or a way to identify like believers-stirring feelings of unity and strength of numbers?

When I see some conservative looking guy in a suit and tie, it strikes me as curious that he doesn’t wipe the ashes off before going about his business. Or I wonder how long he wears them. Say a lawyer gets ashes on his way to work. He wears them on the train. Then does he keep them on while meeting clients? Going to court? The folks I’m speaking of generally don’t display any other outward displays of their religion. Unlike certain Jews, Sikhs, etc.

It strikes me that either you should keep them on until the next time you naturally would wash your face, or remove them immediately. Anything in between seems kind of like insincere.

I guess this might drift into IMHO territory. And sorry if my word choice is imprecise. I am sincerely seeking information, and not intending to offend.

I am a guy in a suit and tie with ashes on his forehead right now.

I’m not aware of any particular guidance about how long to wear the ashes; I keep them on because they serve to remind me of the beginning of Lent. Someone saw this morning and said, “Oh, yeah - I’ve got to go to church today!” SO there are secondary salutary effects as well…

  • Rick

My very Catholic friend Michael said that when he was a kid, he was afraid that if he washed off his ashes, he’d go straight to hell. But his mother (after having several pillowcases ruined) said you could wash them off next time you washed your face.

I always get the mental image of a bored, chain-smoking priest putting out his cigarette on peoples’ foreheads when I see them with ash-dots (I very rarely see any carefully executed crosses!).

As best as I remember, the ashes are not supposed to be a reminder of the season itself as much as a reminder of our mortality.

How long to wear them? I never heard of any official rules, but most people I know leave them on until the next time they would ordinarily wash their face.

Another secondary benefit- people will usually either remind me or look at me strangely (which reminds me) if I’m about to order meat for lunch.