I find myself in San Antonio, Texas on Ash Wednesday, visiting a Catholic university. Should I find some black crayon to blend in? Coffee grounds?
Here’s a nice article on the religious use of ashes:
The use of ashes in this case helps the communitas manifest publicly, but the ritual itself remains powerful without the visible signal. S received his ashes on Ash Wednesday night, and during the accompanying mass, the priest reminded the congregation that the wearing of ashes is only meaningful if you believe in the ritual itself. That is to say, whether you get ashes at 8:00 am and wipe them off immediately or at 8:00 pm and could only wear them for a few minutes, if you accepted the meaning behind the ritual then your place within the network is confirmed. The visibility made possible by this sign is a byproduct of the event, but it is not the object of the performance. However, if this is completely true then the homeless woman’s lack of ashes should not have impaired her ability to obtain more assistance. I don’t think it necessarily did, but her personality is known in these quarters quite well and I think her statements may have been viewed as manipulative given the context.