So yesterday, Bishop Trautman of Erie, PA, went to a local mall (where, to be fair, he had a chapel built in 2008) and gave out Ashes and hear confessions with another priest. I remember in college priests being outside of the classroom buildings giving out ashes. A priest I know told a story of giving out Ashes on a bus and at random subway stops in New York City.

The question I raise is the appropriateness of this. My take is that it is a great idea. We need to be public in our proclamation of faith and because Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, this provides us with an opportunity to get a bit creative.

Now all that being said, I also think that we need to provide an invitation to come to mass as well when we make those trips. So not only do you need to give out the ashes but perhaps a holy card with a Lenten meditation and directions to your church on it. It’s important to provide a link back.

What do you think? Is this appropriate? What other innovative methods have you heard people doing on Ash Wednesday?

0 thoughts on “Should Ashes Be Given Out at the Mall?”
  1. Wow Mike! I think however if there is a chapel there, that does change the dynamic.

    I was trying to remember if I dreamt this or if it was real, but I think that at some point I saw priests giving out ashes at Grand Central Station when I was a commuter.

    I do recall very vividly going to St. Patrick’s in the early 90’s, lines stretching all around the block and ashes being given out, sometimes simultaneously during mass going on. I recall that two priests who I knew back then kind of bristled a bit over that.

    I also recall going to St. Agnes on 43rd St in 2007 after getting off my train. I planned on going to mass but was greeted on the steps by a phalanx of priests distributing ashes. That seemed antithetical but whatever, I got my ashes.

    It is a thorny question about where and when. At my work parish there were 3 masses with ashes yesterday and the liturgy was beautiful. At my worship parish there were 3 prayer services and only one liturgy – I wish there were more masses.

    And the calls I got on Monday and Tuesday – what time are ashes? And I have to go to mass to get them???

  2. Via Facebook:

    From Ed Koch (not the mayor)

    I can speak from experience, that this is a good ministry. I used to work at a parish about 15 minutes from the mall and I would hear of how people took advantage of the priests available for confession, praying in front of the Tabernacle and other things that were available from time to time.

  3. Via Facebook

    From Regina Dunican Moriarty

    Interesting, Mike.

    I remember a few years when I could not get to a mass or church in the city and would miss all the masses by the time I got back to the suburbs, but knew that there would be priests ready and willing to give me my ashes in Grand Central on my way in or my way home. Loved it.

  4. Via Facebook:

    From Dan Harla:

    I find nothing wrong with this at all. Today we live in busy, and fast society, and sometimes we just forget that it is a special day for the Church. I believe that it is a powerful witness to others who don’t believe as we do, and to see something like this in a mall, bus, or any public place may just spark something within them, to figure out what they are doing, and why, and to invite them to Mass, or Church. “

  5. The question here is whether or not to give ashes apart from any context of Word and worship. Folks have many ideas about ashes and why it’s a good thing to receive them – and while some of those ideas have a relationship to the liturgy and Lent, many, I think, do not.

    Priests or other ministers standing in train stations or on church steps giving out ashes to passersby contribute, I believe, to the notion that just getting one’s forehead marked is what it’s all about – and certainly we’d all agree that it’s more than that.

    I’m not saying that a truly busy person might not approach a priest in a train station with a beautifully disposed heart, full of all the right intentions. My concern would be with many (like myself) who might need a little more help in remembering that we’re dust and recalling our need to turn away from sin – help that comes loud and clear in a community of people, gathered to hear the Word, to pray and, often, to celebrate the Eucharist.

    If the busy-ness of folks today needs a concession, might we consider offering ashes at Mass or a Word service not only on Ash Wednesday but also on Ash Thursday, Ash Friday and Ash Saturday – or perhaps even on the First Sunday of Lent? We “transfer” major holy days to the closest Sunday – might we not transfer a non-obligatory day with its special sacramental to a Sunday as well?

  6. I agree with the CP that it would be best for ashes to be distributed in the context of Word and Worship.

    But, at the same time, I think Mall chapels are a great idea!

    As JPII said:

    “Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages.

    “This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern “metropolis”. It is you who must “go out into the byroads” and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people.

    “The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It was never meant to be hidden away in private. It has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father.”

  7. For me, the indelible mark of baptismal chrism becomes visible on Ash Wednesday. “…marked as Christ’s own forever” as the BCP 1979 says. It’s a reminder, yes, that we are all mortal, will all one day be bones and dust, but that we belong to Christ and his Body. I don’t know if others make that connection, or whether I’m totally theologically offbase, but it works for me.

    Mike, why isn’t Ash Wednesday a day of obligation for Roman Catholics? In Anglicanism, it’s one of two fasts of the year (the other is Good Friday) and a prayer book holy day. I was taken aback when Sr. Julie of “A Nun’s Life” wished her readers a “happy feast of Ash Wednesday” – is it a feast?

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