The home I grew up in had an open fire, with many a chilly winter’s night gathered around its warmth.
There were two rituals attached to the winter fire.
One was setting the fire with crushed newspaper, strips of kindling, and pieces of larger wood.
Setting the fire so it lit readily and well was no mean feat.
The second ritual involved disposing of the burnt ashes from the night before.
From memory (and I am going back a few years), the ashes would be scooped into a bucket, taken out, and spread over the vegetable garden.
Why the veggie garden?
Because that is where you were told to dispose of them!
Little did I know that wood ash is an excellent source of lime and potassium for your garden.
Using ashes in the garden also provides many of the trace elements that plants need to thrive.
Wood ash fertiliser is best used either lightly scattered or by first being composted along with the rest of your compost.
This is because wood ash will produce lye and salts if it gets wet.
The lye and salt will not cause problems in small quantities, but in larger amounts, the lye and salt may burn your plants.
So, this is why we have Ash Wednesday.
Ashes are a good fertiliser for your garden, providing trace elements needed for you to thrive.
Like the seed (See Mark 4), they are best scattered and used lightly or sparingly – once a year ought to be sufficient!
Practically speaking, on a liturgical note, the distribution of ashes is not a function reserved to the ordained minister.
Consider a large glass bowl laden with ashes on a stand in the centre of the sanctuary. Individuals are invited to come forward to the ashes and sprinkle themselves with ash however they wish.
In turn, this opens up the possibility of couples approaching together and, in turn, sprinkling each other.
What an extraordinary metaphor of forgiveness.
For those with a disability, invite others to assist them – one of the most frequent phrases in the Gospels reads, “They brought to him,”
Some complain, “What about the mess?”
Our Eucharistic celebration is a recalling of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
I am told it was quite messy, “instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.” (Jn 19: 34).
Another thought to consider: dispense with the celebration of the Eucharist on Ash Wednesday. Rather, focus on the Liturgy of the Ashes.
A final thought: those who regularly minister to the sick in their home through the Liturgy of Communion take with them a container with the blessed ashes and celebrate with those housebound a Liturgy of the Ashes.
Being housebound does not dismiss you from the Eucharistic community.