For how long are we meant to wear the ashes?

Hey everyone, in case you don’t know me I’m new to Catholicism (no Catholic family or friends previously) but I’m being baptised and confirmed into the Church this Easter.

Last night I noticed that on my Liturgical calender, today was going to be Ash Wednesday and I remembered people at RCIA talking about it. It was in bold on my calender so I assumed it was a Holy Day of Obligation (I know now it wasn’t but anyway…) so I went to Mass this morning out of curiosity, a feeling that I needed to go and also for practical reasons (to do with a day out we’re all doing at RCIA, I needed to know what time we were meeting that weekend).

So I went and had the ashes marked in the shape of the cross on my forehead, and I walked back home afterwards with others from my Church - only receiving a few funny looks.

How long am I to keep them on my forehead for? I noticed no one wiped it off when they left Church. My boyfriend has already been asking questions and my housemates are definitely going to ask later this evening.

I do not remember any rule. When I was child in the forties we kept it until we get home. Some people say all day.

Think about the funny looks on that way, that they resent to remember that they came from dust and their body will be dust again.

In other hand being Catholic is something in the heart, not external signs.

That’s kind of the point. People should ask questions! It’s a visible sign that you are Catholic (or at least Christian). And it provides you a wonderful opportunity to be a witness to your faith!

The ashes themselves are a sacramental, so you shouldn’t just be immediately washing them off. I think as a good rule of thumb, you should wear them for the whole day and then you can wash them off before you go to bed.

I keep them untill I go to bed, as a rule of thumb anyway, remember they are an outward sign of our faith, and a constant reminder, that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

May God Bless You

Or, if you follow what Jesus says in the Gospel for today, wash them off.

what till Australia get back in the crease that could make our Lord happy!

Jesus speaks of being ostentatious and showy about your faith. He does not speak against testifying to it by a visible mark. Keep the ashes.

just answer the question
they last until the next time you wash your face, whenever that is, there is no obligation to wear them all day.

welcome home, we will be rejoicing with you at Easter

Usually let is come off naturally during the day. Don’t go out of your way to wipe it off but if you need to wash your face go right ahead.

I remember a priest complaining about people washing the ashes off there forehead as soon as they left church. I almost always get mine at an evening mass, but I like the ashes to last as long as they can. Next morning the mark is gone.

I have to wash mine off as I need to have a shower before I go to RCIA tonight, as it finishes late and I have work so early in the morning that I wouldn’t have time to wash my hair then. That’s one of the reasons why I was asking - I didn’t want any awkward moments or comments if I went to RCIA without it on.

Thanks for clearing it up for me though, so I guess once you leave Church it’s more of a personal devotion?

Pretty much, but it’s highly recommended that you keep the ashes.

I keep the ashes on until I go to bed in the evening.

Here is Jimmy Akin’s opinion on the matter:

Ashes, Ashes, All Fall Down

And here are a couple of other threads on the topic:

Ash Wednesday: will you go about your day WITHOUT washing your forehead?

Is it permissible to wipe off the ashes from one’s forehead before going public?

I’m sure there are several other threads to read as well if you do a search here on CAF.

As Catholics we should ask ourselves what the ashes symbolize to us.

I think the invocation the priest uses conferring ashes on our foreheads says it all reminding us of our sinful failure and human weakness. Remember Man/Woman you are Dust and to Dust you shall return or Turn away from Sin and believe in the holy Gospel

As to the time-line one should keep them on their foreheads? That’s up to the individual.
Perhaps to some it personally means more if your more conscious of your ashes leaving them on your head all day.

Sure its humbling if your scene in public with ashes. But I would think even most non-Catholics know about or heard about Ash Wednesday…then again maybe not.


There is no rule about this. One has to be practical. If it’s possible to keep them until one washes one’s face in the evening, then do so. There are times when it’s not possible. You may have to go to work in an enviornment where this would be inappropriate. By all means, wash your face. I know that at hospitals and healtcare facilities they’re not allowed for obvious reasons, anymore than makeup or other things that can be considered contaminants.

In some private places of employment, they have dress codes. Common sense dictates that you follow them.

If it’s just a matter of people looking at your curiously, because they don’t understand, the easy thing to do is to explain where the custom comes from and that it’s a reminder of the universal call to turn away from sin. It’s a custom that dates back to the OT of putting ashes over one’s head as a sign of penance. That’s all you have to say. Many religious traditions have different customs that remind their people to prepare for the High Holy Days. This happens to be the one used by Catholics and Orthodox. If I’m not mistaken, some of the Eastern Catholics pour them over your head instead of making a cross on your forehead. The concept is the same. It’s a call to holiness. A short explanation and a reminder that every major religious tradition has it own symbols that call people to conversion should suffice for the truly curious.

Those who just want to tease and annoy will not be satisfied with the most logical explanations, so why bother trying to satisfy them.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

I like to keep them as long as possible. Sure, I took a lot of good-natured ribbing at a former job (“Hey, you got copy toner on your face,” etc.), but I am proud to wear them. I don’t mind being marked for Christ.

I also have a large tattoo of the Sacred Heart on my shoulder, but the people at work never see that. That’s there to remind me when I look in the mirror every morning. Other people do see the ashes, once a year. I don’t mind the questions, nor the harmless jokes. It’s a small cross to bear, but a cross nonetheless.