These branches are then burned down into a fine powder and, in the United States, are mixed with holy water or chrism oil to create a light paste. In other parts of the world, sometimes dry ashes are sprinkled on the head rather than made into a paste.
BYOA - Burn Your Own Ashes
Fr. Dan Folwaczny is a priest with the Archdiocese of Chicago and serves as associate pastor at St. Norbert and Our Lady of the Brook parish.
He told CNA that the parish burns their own palms from previous Palm Sundays.
“We have an order of palms that comes in, and some of them are handed out on Palm Sunday but some are leftover, and those we usually store away in the garage until the following year,” he told CNA.
“And then also we have some that people bring back, so people have had them in their houses in the lead-up to Lent, and we’ll tell people to bring them in to the church,” he said.
Then on the day before Ash Wednesday, all of the old palms are placed in a fire pit on the church steps.
“And then the school kids come out and we have a little prayer service and light it on fire,” Folwaczny said.
While some priests order palms from religious goods suppliers, Folwaczny said he has always had plenty of palms and ashes to spare.
“We actually still have plenty in reserve from previous years,” he said. “We could actually not [burn additional palms] for a couple of years and still be fine.”
A similar procedure for the burning of ashes is followed in many parishes and dioceses.
Fr. Harrison Ayre, with the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia, told CNA on Twitter that he burns his own ashes for Ash Wednesday in a metal garbage bin “and they reduce to ashes quite nicely.”
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While many parishes use Ash Wednesday as an opportunity to use up last year’s palms, the Church also allows for the buying of ashes from religious goods suppliers.
Fr. Joseph Faulkner, a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., told CNA on Twitter that he buys his ashes from religious goods suppliers to avoid sub-par or “stabby” ashes.
For Catholic parishes in Colorado, one of the most-used such suppliers is Gerken’s Religious Supplies.
“There is quite an art to (burning ashes),” Mike Gerken, the co-owner, told the Denver Catholic in 2017.
“To get the good ash, you can’t just burn them. You have to let them smolder with no oxygen, and that’s where it gets the real charcoal black.”