On Ash Wednesday, I noticed this article about some churches going “on-the-road” to distribute ashes. Coincidentally, a former high school student also asked about this, and wondered if the Catholic Church had any guidelines concerning such practices.
I asked the Archdiocese what the guidelines are, and received an answer:
The official guidelines for Ash Wednesday are found in the Roman Missal under Ash Wednesday. We can distribute Ashes within Mass or a Liturgy of the Word. The sacramental of imposing ashes only makes sense when it is connected with the God’s Word to us on conversion. Within the context of visits to a nursing home, hospital, a home, etc… one could use the “Rite of the Pastoral Care of the Sick” (the book that a priest would use for the distribution of Holy Communion / Anointing of the Sick / Visits to a Sick Child) and distribute ashes within the context of a pastoral visit to a sick person. This Rite includes readings from Scripture and prayers in which distribution of ashes would seem most appropriate.
Simply distributing ashes “on the fly” would not be deemed appropriate and would seem to diminish the sacredness of the rite and the significance of the practice.