Each year a viral trend resurfaces on Ash Wednesday. Catholics post pictures of themselves with ashes on their foreheads after Mass. Should Catholics be tweeting their ashes?
Every Ash Wednesday, those of us on social media wake up to pictures of our friends who attended early Mass to receive their ashes. Some zoom in on their forehead, some smile and pose with their friends. A few comment on how neat or messy, light or dark their ashes are. A few keep them all day, others go home and wash them off.
For years, Catholics have debated these practices. What’s the protocol for the ashes once Mass has ended? Must you wear them all day? Should you? Should you go about in public, or shut yourself in at home?
The answer to these questions isn’t officially established by the Church. There is no official guide to Ash Wednesday etiquette. There are many private opinions.
The Bible is the first source for advice on the matter. In the Book of Joel, we are told “rend not your garments.” And in the Gospels we are warned against trumpeting our piety in public.
But then, there’s the New Evangelization where we are told to share our faith with others and to invite our neighbors back into the fold. One way to accomplish this is via social media. Social media allows us to show solidarity with fellow Christians and it also shows non-Christians that our faith brings us joy and plays a major role in our lives.
Is there a middle ground?
The answer is yes. The ashes are a sign of mortality as well as a symbol of our repentance. It’s not about pride or showing off. If people post jokes or smiling pictures of their ashes, they could be pushing the boundaries of what would be appropriate if the Church did issue guidelines on the matter. The ashes are not about getting likes and shares.
On the other hand, posting a picture of your ashes is not a sin either, particularly when done in the spirit of the New Evangelization. There is nothing wrong with showing solidarity with other Catholics or using the occasion to educate others about Ash Wednesday.
Ultimately, it comes down to intent. The ashes are not a fashion statement. If a person is sharing their ashes to gain social acceptance in the forms of “likes” then the display is arguably inappropriate. However, if the intent is to share the importance of your faith and to invite others to participate, then the practice is praiseworthy.
Of course, none of us have business judging what others choose to do. So there is no license here to argue with people over their selfies. Instead, we should all examine our conscience and our choices privately, and if we feel our actions are inconsistent with our faith we should make changes. After all, that is a big part of what Lent is about.