So as we approach Ash Wednesday I am often asked the question, "Where do those ashes come from?" Is there an angelic 'Ash Fairy' who drops them down from heaven?
Actually the ashes come from the burning of the blessed palms used last year during Palm Sunday. So yes - there is a process and method, honed and used every year, in order to yield the ashes a parish requires for their Ash Wednesday services - and it is not found in the Roman Missal!
Over the past few months parishioners have been dropping off their old palms knowing that we would soon be preparing for Ash Wednesday.So this past Thursday, when the wind was calm and before the snow and rain from 'Nemo' arrived here in the Northeast, I gathered all the palms that had been collected and pulled out the clean fire pit.
Sheltered behind the Church, I began the process of burning all of the palms, careful not to let the fire cool and thus generate plumes of white smoke - signaling the Princeton Fire Dept! After the fire burns down the ashes are gently fanned in order to facilitate the smoldering ashes to completely burn down.
The ashes are then collected in a metal pot and allowed to burn down some more and then cool off.
With a metal mortar and pestle the ashes are slowly ground down pulverizing most of the palm remains.
Afterwhich the ashes are then sifted through a flour sifter. Now I know what you are thinking - and no we do not use this sifter for flour. It comes with the territory: all deacons should have a dedicated ash sifter! And I recommend that they do all this when their wife is away!
So when you come forward this Wednesday to receive your ashes and to begin your Lenten journey, you may want to say a pray for your parish's ash maker!