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About the Imposition of Ashes

On Ash Wednesday, parishioners are invited to kneel at the altar and to have ashes placed upon their foreheads in the sign of the cross as they hear the words "Remember o man that you are dust and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). Why do we do this? Isn't that Roman Catholic?
 
To answer the last question first, no, the imposition of ashes is not Roman Catholic. The imposition of ashes is at least1,000 years old in Christian practice and has its roots in Jewish penitential and mourning rites (sackcloth and ashes).
 
To answer the first question, we mark ourselves with ashes in humility and repentance to acknowledge our sinfulness even in faithful confidence of God's forgiveness in Jesus Christ. We do not, however, mark ourselves with ashes to demonstrate our piety. Many parishioners will wash them off shortly after the Divine Service.
 
Here is a helpful article on the history of the imposition of ashes published by the Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/Worship/COWInsert0205.pdf (see page 2).
 
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