A View from the Sacristy: Ready to Wear Ashes

March 4, 2015 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Ready to Wear Ashes

20150218_194219-1So, the ashes have been created, they are all ready to use! Well…not exactly. If you use just the plain burned palm it will only make a slight smudge on your forehead that wouldn’t even last until the end of the Ash Wednesday service.  You also would not have the picture-perfect ash cross we all hope for and desire.

There are a few theories on how to make the perfect ash but two things are common to each: you need to add some sort of fat or oil which accomplishes two things: 1. It makes the ashes darker, and 2. It causes the ash to adhere to skin.

Olive oil is a common bonding agent, although it doesn’t really make the ashes dark. I have never been able to get home-made ashes as dark as commercially-made ashes. Adding lampblack, however, which is a pigment made from burned fat or oil, gives the ashes a very rich, very dark pigment. Another benefit of the lampblack is that the fat or oil makes the ash adhere safely to skin. You can get some at a local craft store!

The one thing you never want to do is mix the ash with water. This can create a chemical called lye which is used in making soaps and oven cleaner. It can cause damage to the skin and can have hazardous reactions with certain metals and we do keep some of our ash in a metal container.

At St Luke’s we have lampblack in with the ash. Think back to Ash Wednesday and how long did your ash cross stay on you forehead. Did it last until the next morning? Did you have to scrub it off? See? Lampblack works!

We do have some ash from last year on reserve, so I think it might be time to give the oil treatment a try. It should be fun, mixing and stirring, trying to get the amount of oil just right, not too little, not too much. I’ll let you know how the experimentation turns out!

– Sean Scheller

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