Masses were abandoned in two Irish parishes on Ash Wednesday after dozens of mass-goers complained of burns after ashes were applied to their foreheads in the traditional Catholic rite. Some needed hospital attention.
Monsignor Malachy Hallinan, the parish priest of Westside parish in Galway, told the Irish Examiner he had never come across such incidents in his life. He home-prepared the ashes, burning palm leaves from the previous Palm Sunday, but likely overcooked them experts said.
“At the 10am mass we began to give out the ashes. Then, at about 10.30am, word came back that people were suffering a little burning in the forehead,” he said.
“About 10 minutes later a man came and the skin had broken, so I immediately took all the ashes in from the church and didn’t go to the school [with them].”
A spokesman for the Irish health service the HSE said ‘home-prepared’ ashes can cause burning because of their caustic nature.
“Ashes can be caustic if the palms used have been burned too intensely,” he said. “This is indicated by the color of the ash being grey rather than dark or black.”
Meanwhile In north Cork, Newtownshandrum parish administrator Fr Eugene Baker also had to call a halt when people suffered a burning sensation and blisters.
“I was alerted to the problem at the time of Holy Communion by a member of the congregation,” he said.
“I immediately alerted the congregation to the problem, instructed them to remove the ash with a tissue, and invited them to go to the sacristy to wash the ash off with water.
“At the end of mass, I saw for myself that all who had received ashes had a severe burn. I urged them to get medical attention. I deeply regret the discomfort experienced by those who took the ash.”