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John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis All Did Ashes on the Crown

John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis All Did Ashes on the Crown February 16, 2021

This Ash Wednesday, the distribution of the ashes will be a little different for Canada and the USA. Usually in our countries, the priest imposes them by making a cross on the forehead. However, this year, the Vatican suggested: “The Priest takes the ashes and sprinkles them on the head of each one without saying anything.” This sprinkling on the crown of the head seems odd for us in the US and Canada but is a common tradition elsewhere. I experienced it when studying in Italy. All three of our recent Popes both received and gave out ashes this way.

There are plenty of photos of the Popes on Ash Wednesday. However, I have the right to none of them: I’ll embed social media posts below. Thus, I looked for a picture of sprinkling the ashes on the head to use for this post instead. Doing so, I found a Polish painter 140 years ago. This shows it is a common practice in multiple Catholic countries.

Julian Fałat, Popielec (Ash Wednesday), 1881, showing ashes on the crown of the head was normal in Poland.
Julian Fałat, Popielec (Ash Wednesday), 1881, showing ashes on the crown of the head was normal in Poland. (CC0)

Popes St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis on Ash Wednesday

The last three Popes have been seen on both sides of the Ash Wednesday celebration. Both in giving and receiving ashes, they do so on the crown.

Pope St. John Paul II Distributing Ashes on the Crown

Pope Benedict XVI Distributing Ashes on the Crown

Pope Francis Distributing Ashes on the Crown

Conclusion

Although the way ashes will be distributed this year is a little odd for our North American sensibilities, it’s common elsewhere. Let’s enter this season of Lent thinking about how we can sacrifice to grow spiritually and help others. Let’s not be distracted by such minor liturgical changes.

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