Well, not quite our American Custom, I seldom see the ashes so nicely imposed on the forehead. Usually my impositions look more like smudges, and sometimes sprinkles of ashes fall on the nose, cheeks and chin, an imperfect world.
The Holy Father and most of Europe receive a "sprinkling" of ashes on the crown of the head, not a mark of ashes on the forehead. Does anyone know the reason for the difference? Which method do you prefer?
From the Catholic Answers Forum:
Sprinkling ashes on the crown of the head recalls the biblical method of putting on sackcloth and ashes as a sign of penance:
Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth upon their heads (Neh 9:1).
The American method of smearing ashes on the forehead, usually in the sign of the cross, allows the ashes to be visible to others so that the communal penitential nature of the day might be more readily seen.
I have no preference personally, however being American on the forehead is what I am used to.
One result of ashes on the forehead is frequent questioning from Protestants in the general public-- my mechanic is one example. This does offer a small opportunity to explain Catholic doctrine regarding Lent and penance.
This is my first year going to the morning Ash Wednesday Holy Mass and, therefore, wearing the ashes throughout the day. I must say, I have had several looks and many people asking if I'm aware that I have something smeared on my forehead! I say ashes on the forehead are a great opportunity to "evangelize" our brothers and sisters here in the mainly-Protestant deep South!
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