blessed ashes

A sacramental of the Church, used on Ash Wednesday to remind the faithful of their final end and of the necessity of contrition and penance during the Lenten season. The use of ashes to express humiliation and sorrow was common in ancient religions, and is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. Probably this practise was introduced into the early Church by converts from Judaism. For some centuries the ashes were imposed only on public penitents, those who had given great public scandal; they appeared at the door of the church in penitential garb on Ash Wednesday and were sprinkled with ashes. Later, c.1100, it became customary for all Catholics, including the clergy, to receive the ashes. They are placed on the head of each person, with the words, in Latin: “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” They are obtained by burning the blessed palms of the previous Palm Sunday, and are blessed before the principal Mass of Ash Wednesday.