On Ash Wednesday, can non-Catholics receive ashes at Mass? Also, how did Ash Wednesday begin?

Since You Asked
Ash Wednesday
 
Q On Ash Wednesday, can non-Catholics receive ashes at Mass? Also, how did Ash Wednesday begin?
- A Catechumen
 
A

First of all, welcome to the family! May your journey be both grace and blessing to you.

In the Old Testament, ashes and dust are signs of "mortality and worthlessness, sorrow and repentance" (the Catholic Encyclopedia). Sometimes they are sprinkled on the head, other times the body is covered with ashes, people sit or lie in them, or even eat them!  There were pagan rituals regarding ashes but it seems pretty clear that Catholic practice is taken from these Old Testament customs. The whole Church (around the world) has used ashes since the 11th century--and before that here and there and frequently among individual penitents.

In the Encyclopedia, a reference to ashes for catechumens is mentioned (in the past), which lends weight to your question regarding the present. I can't see why you SHOULDN'T present yourself for ashes, just as those who haven't made their First Communion can present themselves for a blessing from the priest. I would discuss this with the leaders of your RCIA program, however...so that ALL the catechumens can support one another in this time of penance and preparation for Baptism. If your leaders and counselors are hesitant at all, that certainly doesn't prevent you from entering with great dedication into the blessed season of Lent. May you go with God!

Ash Wednesday