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What’s the Deal with Ashes on Ash Wednesday?

Every Catholic knows that awkward feeling of people staring at his forehead in public on Ash Wednesday. Karlo Broussard provides some tips on how to use that awkward moment for evangelization.


So, it’s Ash Wednesday, you just got sloshed with ashes, and you have to go to the grocery store. Worried everyone is gonna be staring and thinking, “I wonder if that guy knows he has dirt on his forehead?”

If so, fear no more. Here’s a few ways to respond to the befuddled looks.

You can start by laughing with them and say, “Pretty weird, eh? I bet you’re wondering why I have dirt on my forehead,” and then explain what the ashes symbolize.

You can say something like this: “Today begins a special season for Christians when we focus on how this life is passing and that we should turn away from sin and turn toward God. The ashes remind us of our mortality, since it is to dirt that our bodies shall return.”

You then might share with them that in Old Testament times, ashes were used to express sorrow for sin. For example, the prophet Daniel, in Daniel 9:3, sought God’s mercy on behalf of the Israelites with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. The visible sign represents the interior conversion.

You can also explain that the ashes not only signify death but victory over death. The ashes that our bodies will become after we die will be re-formed into a resurrected body at the end of time when Christ comes in glory. Jesus’ resurrection, and our participation in it, allows us to ask rhetorically with St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O death, where is thy sting?”

If you want to learn more about this topic and others like it, visit our website at

For Catholic Answers, I’m Karlo Broussard. Thanks for watching.

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