Lots of controversies have been going on as to how long should one keep ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday.
Receiving Ash on Ash Wednesday is considered a popular devotion most especially, for the Roman Catholics. Most times when we go to Mass in the morning or even during the day there is this question we ask ourselves, “do I keep the ashes on my forehead and let everyone know I went to church or, do I just wipe them off so as not to draw attention to myself?” Well, this all depends on your motivation.
Anyone who receives ashes can decide for himself how long he wishes to keep them on. And just like most Catholics might decide to keep them on at least throughout the Mass, another could choose to rub them off immediately after the mass. Others may even decide to keep their Ash Wednesday ashes until its bedtime, or even till the next day. There is absolute, no requirement at all that they do so.
However, wearing one’s Ash Wednesday ash throughout the day helps us to remember why we decided to receive them in the first place, and this can help us towards humility throughout the period of Lent, especially in public. Those who feel uncomfortable wearing their ashes outside of Church, or those who cannot keep it worn for a longer time because of their work or other duties, should not worry at all about removing them. In the same way, if your ashes naturally fall off or you mistakenly rubbed them off, there is no need to be concerned too. What matters is your prudence and remembrance as to why you received the ashes.
Amazingly, there are others who contradict the Bible verse (Matthew 6:1) with the wearing of the ashes outside the Church as “showcasing of righteous deeds, public show of religion and drawing of attention.” That would be a mistake as to think that Jesus forbids or even discourages the outward and public show or religion. In Matthew 6, Christ did not discourage the outward show but the interior pride that can undermine it.
With reference also to what Christ tells us in Matthew 5:16, we can reveal our faith in different ways thereby, allowing our light to shine before men. Wearing a crucifix, wearing the ash on Ash Wednesday and even taking a stand on a moral and ethical issue, are all part of it.
Furthermore, receiving ash on Ash Wednesday is not a good work but a visible sign of sorrow for our sin. A reminder that one day we shall all leave to meet the creator. It is the sign of the need for repentance, away we enter into a penitent nature. Like in the Old Testament, penitents wore sackcloths and ashes to publicly atone for sin.
Finally, wearing the ash on Ash Wednesday helps us accomplish our duty of giving public witness as Catholics. It reminds us that people see us as Catholics and that through our baptism we were marked for Christ. Whether the ash is visible on your head or not we must take our time to remember and meditate on the meaning of these ashes.