Q: After receiving ashes at an Ash Wednesday morning Mass, I returned home and turned on the television news. It showed some priests in a neighboring town who were out on the sidewalk in front of their church marking with ashes the foreheads of any interested lunchtime passer-by.
They were in priestly vestments and their church had a saint's name, but is this a Catholic practice? Aren't Catholics supposed to attend Mass to get their ashes? (New Middletown, Indiana)
A: I am wondering whether the clergymen you saw on television may not have been Catholic. I say that because this year in my own neighborhood, two Protestant ministers unpacked their jars of ashes as they stood on a downtown street corner and called out courteously to those who walked by, "Free ashes for Ash Wednesday. Would you like ashes and a prayer?"
I have also read that, for the last 12 Ash Wednesdays, a group of Protestant clergy in St. Louis have offered "drive-thru" ashes in car windows to drivers who stopped at a downtown intersection.
But as a spokesman for the St. Louis Archdiocese explained, that is not the common practice of Catholics. "For us," he said, "Ash Wednesday is a time to slow down and assess your spiritual life. So taking time out and going to Mass or a service is an important part of that."
I have at times given ashes to people in other settings whose work schedules on that day made it difficult for them to come to church, but my strong preference (and the Catholic Church's) is to do this at Mass -- remembering, too, that the Eucharist is of course even more important than the ashes.
Q: My daughter is soon to be engaged to a young man who attends a Lutheran church. She has received all of her Catholic sacraments and attends Mass regularly. Now she is in turmoil about where to get married.
Her future in-laws are expecting them to marry in his hometown Lutheran church, where his family are adamant members -- and that is the town where the couple expect to settle and raise their family.
I am wondering what the Catholic Church's guidelines are and how she can be married with the blessing of the Catholic Church. Whenever we try to discuss the matter, my daughter ends up in tears.
She doesn't want to convert to Lutheranism, and she doesn't want to disappoint her own family or his. Can you offer any insight that might help? (central Minnesota)
A: Please relax, and have your daughter do the same. The solution is right at hand. Your daughter can be married in her husband's Lutheran parish church and still have the marriage recognized and blessed by the Catholic Church.
She and her fiance would need simply to meet with a local Catholic priest sometime ahead of the wedding to do the necessary paperwork in applying for the Catholic diocese's permission.
The priest will explain that your daughter will need to promise to continue to be faithful to her own Catholic faith and practice and that she will do all she reasonably can, within the context of the marriage, to see that any children are baptized and brought up as Catholic.
Her husband will not need to promise anything, but simply be aware that this is the commitment your daughter is making. If they would like, they can even ask a Catholic priest or deacon to participate in the marriage ceremony -- perhaps sharing some of the prayers or readings with the Protestant clergyperson.
In circumstances like these, a wedding ceremony that is mutually agreed upon and mutually planned can do a lot to bring two families into a deeper harmony at an important time.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.