By Tim Harfmann
On Ash Wednesday, millions of Catholics around the world receive a mark on their foreheads, symbolizing the start of Lent.
But where do churches get the dust from? How is it made?
“This is our preparation,” explained Father Bryan Patterson, rector of Saint James Cathedral-Basilica in Downtown Brooklyn. “Burning the palms to create the ashes, which people will turn away from sin and evoke themselves to the Gospel.”
Parishioners donate blessed palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday Masses.
“I asked them to bring palms, and I got a lot of palms,” Fr. Patterson said outside the cathedral-basilica, standing by a pile of palm strands and cross-shaped branches burning in the Brooklyn breeze.
According to him, there is no Vatican-approved guide on how to hold a palm-burning service. In fact, parishes aren’t required to burn their own palms. They can order ashes from religious goods suppliers.
It’s not about the mark on your forehead, but conversion towards Christ, said Fr. Patterson.
“The ashes, putting them on your head or not putting them on your head, it’s really the change of heart that affects the blessing,” he explained.
Isabel Navarro, a parishioner at St. James, agrees.
“What lent means is a time of reflection, a time of maybe reading the Bible more to understand the things that you’re doing,” she said.
It’s a reflection Fr. Patterson wants other Catholics to consider during this solemn season.
“Is God really the center of your life,” he asked, “or is God an accessory to your life?”
Now, Catholics prepare for Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.