Where do the ashes for Ash Wednesday come from?

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day when millions of Catholics will receive ashes on their forehead as an outward sign of our need for repentance. But where do the ashes come from? Is there a significance to the ashes used in today’s liturgies?

Recently on Go Ask Your Father™, Msgr. Stuart Swetland explained where our ashes come from and how they can be distributed today. He said:

“By tradition, the ashes that are used for Ash Wednesday are obtained by burning the palms left over from the Palm Sunday celebration of the year before. Those ashes are then collected and blessed as part of the liturgy that is involved with Ash Wednesday.

That distribution is usually in the context of the full Mass, though ashes can be distributed with the Liturgy of the Word, outside of the context of the full Mass. And like Communion, they can be taken to the shut-in, the homebound, and to nursing homes.

The tradition is that the ashes are made by the burning of palms from the previous Palm Sunday. But to actually burn the palms well enough to collect the ashes, and make them workable for distribution, is difficult. So because of the amount they are going to need for the distribution of ashes and for the convenience, a lot of places will get pre-prepared ashes that are made from palms, but they do it off-site and send it to your parish in packages. I’ve been involved in distributing ashes where they do it both ways, and there are advantages to both.”

Listen to the conversation below:

Go Ask your Father airs weekdays at 1:00 p.m. Eastern/10:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio®

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.