Ashes From Palms

Received a few days ago by e-mail. I’ll tell you what I’ve done, but I’ll also confess I’ve never quite been able to match the smudge quality of the church supply sources:

This year our liturgy committee has decided to reinforce the origin and symbolism of the ashes used on Ash Wednesday by inviting parishioners to bring their palm fronds from Palm Sunday on the Sunday before Lent starts so we can burn them prior to Ash Wednesday. We think it’s a catechetical moment and a good way to communicate where the ashes come from, rather than “We just buy them from the church supply company.”

The problem is, some people have told me from their experience it’s very hard to burn old palm fronds. I’d be interested to know what experience your readers have in this regard, and any tips they might have to offer as to the logistics of the burning. I’d like to make sure we do it right the first time so we can make this a parish tradition.

I run the burned remnants of the palms through an old sifter. I’ve mixed the ashes with water in my early days, but I’ve gotten a fair result the past few years with a little bit of oil. Rachael Ray would say to eyeball it. Each year I test the smudge factor several times till it comes out close. I keep mixing alternate amounts of ash with oil till it gets close.

The best result I’ve had with the burning is to involve the Boy Scouts in the actual pyro stuff and to have the school kids process to an open area in the parking lot or field with their palm fronds. We have a brief prayer service (and no, we don’t sing “Ashes.”)

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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9 Responses to Ashes From Palms

  1. MaraJoy says:

    “Church supply sources?” They buy ashes? I just assumed they always burned the palms themselves. But I guess I didn’t know it was hard to do…
    Is it not allowed to just use ashes from something else? (That would be free…)

  2. Todd says:

    I’m not aware of any “regulation” on the content of ashes. I think burning palms is traditional. I actually have leftover ashes from previous years’ burning of palms. I always get enough from parishioners, but I have to be careful to extract all rubber bands before firing up the grill.

  3. howtocentral says:

    Hi, Todd…@ SJL we burn the palms then place in freezer baggie and roll to fine powder with rolling pin…our former pastor would slop a lot of water and make ‘ash soup’ just before Mass for the blackest smudge like no other! With our new pastor, we get to tryout the professional brand and compare.

  4. Last year about this time, when I had first arrived as pastor, the business manager — reacting to a mailing — said, “Do we have ashes for Ash Wednesday?” I said authoritatively, “I dunno”–so she told me a vial of them wasn’t much $, so I said, fine, get them.

    Then, when Ash Wednesday approached, I went over to set things up — and I found the supply . . . lots and lots of ashes — two or three large containers.

    Realize you don’t actually use much ash for Ash Wednesday. So we probably have a 50-year supply, right now. So we won’t be buying any ashes.

    When folks brought me palms, I did try burning the old palms in the Easter Fire. Along with the old oils.

  5. Gillian says:

    We invite parishioners to bring back the palms they got last Passion Sunday and we have a liturgy at Evening Prayer the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, at which a token piece of palm is smouldered in the censer. After the liturgy, a few of us burn the (couple of bushels of) palms and end up with about a biscuit tin full of ash. It is run through a sieve to get the thich bits out. we don’t mix anything else into them and have stockpiled enough ashes for our part of the diocese, even after distributing them at all eight parish schools and Ash Wednesday parish masses. I think our parishioners really connect with the meaning.

  6. Fr John says:

    I have been burning palms on Shrove Tuesday for years! I do it in the morning at our two schools. The children certainly enjoy it, and also learn a great deal about Ash Wednesday, Lent and Palm Sunday!

  7. nancy sinclair says:

    Anyone interested in sharing a liturgy for the buring of the Palms???

  8. Bill Ruston says:

    Bill, thank you for the information about creating ashes for the ash Wednesday service, I am still working on making them fine enough.

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