Ash Wednesday: Pope Francis’ Service And Glitter In Place Of Ashes

Ash Wednesday this year has seen Pope Francis leading a service held in a Roman basilica, while other Catholics paved the way for a new kind of celebration of Lent by smudging glitter on the foreheads of the faithful instead of the more traditional ashes.

Those who grew up Catholic will know that Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent and this period ends after Easter. Catholic parishioners who attend Ash Wednesday services will have ashes daubed onto their foreheads to remind them of their mortality and the promise of another life in Jesus Christ.

This Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis donned his purple vestments and took part in a procession in Rome which led to a 5th century church known as St. Sabina’s Basilica. Fox News reports that Pope Francis had his own spin on this year’s Ash Wednesday service.

Catholics at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago celebrate Ash Wednesday on March 1, 2017.

The popular Pope told the faithful before him that his idea of Lent was “the time for saying no.” He suggested to fellow Catholics that one of the things they could work on during this season was the urge to indulge in “harsh and hasty criticism” of other people. Pope Francis also spoke this Ash Wednesday about the trivialization of life and superficiality, as Vatican Radio reported.

“Lent is the time for saying no. No to the spiritual asphyxia born of the pollution caused by indifference, by thinking that other people’s lives are not my concern, and by every attempt to trivialize life, especially the lives of those whose flesh is burdened by so much superficiality. Lent means saying no to the toxic pollution of empty and meaningless words, of harsh and hasty criticism, of simplistic analyses that fail to grasp the complexity of problems, especially the problems of those who suffer the most. Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia of a prayer that soothes our conscience, of an almsgiving that leaves us self-satisfied, of a fasting that makes us feel good.”

Pope Francis ended his Ash Wednesday service by telling Catholics around the world that rather than focusing on the bad around them, they should instead try to create as much good in the world as possible and spoke of Lent as being an important time to practice compassion.

Ash Wednesday for others is being celebrated in some very non-traditional ways. The Los Angeles Times has described how in Iowa one priest is using purple glitter in place of ash on this Ash Wednesday. Peter Sickels repeated the saying, “Remember, oh man, you are dust and to dust you shall return” and was one of 150 religious figures across the United States who chose to give his support to the LGBT community by switching glitter for ash.

“I love the concept of not just ashes but glitter for new hope and new life, and just standing up for minorities, for those who are incredibly in distress at these times.”

The idea of using glitter instead of ash on Ash Wednesday began on this day last year when an Episcopal priest named Liz Edman wished that she was able to come out and show that she was a lesbian, but still also very much a Christian. While her girlfriend came up with the idea of using glitter, Edman was initially not sure about the idea.

“Glitter is serious business for queer people. Glitter is how we have long made ourselves visible, even though becoming visible puts us at risk.”

Pope Francis at Ash Wednesday services in Rome on March 1, 2017.
Pope Francis at Ash Wednesday services in Rome on March 1, 2017. [Image by Maurizio Brambatti/AP Images]

Liz Edman changed her mind about using glitter on Ash Wednesday as soon as she read St. Augustine’s teachings on despair. The saint warned that giving in to despair could stop individuals from creating real change in their life, and Edman took his words to heart and decided that glitter could show others that they shouldn’t let themselves feel despair.

Once Edman’s message got out, other religious leaders from different denominations also decided to take part. While traditionally a Catholic idea, other denominations also now have their own Ash Wednesday services and thought that using glitter instead of ashes would be a positive change while also sending a message of hope and support to the LGBT community at the same time.

How did you spend Ash Wednesday? Could you ever see Pope Francis one day using glitter instead of ashes to celebrate Lent?

[Featured Image by Alessandra Tarantino/AP Images]