The perfect recipe to get ashes that will stick to a forehead on Ash Wednesday is elusive.
So, like millions of other Americans tackling do-it-yourself projects, the Rev. Bradley Zamora turns to YouTube for guidance.
“YouTube comes in handy,” said Zamora, 27, who has serves as Director of Liturgy at Holy Name Cathedral.
“There are videos out there. But it’s trial and error, too,” he said. “There’s no set prescription in any church ritual book, sadly.”
Zamora tinkered with his recipe Tuesday afternoon in a room off to the side of the altar at Holy Name. His ingredients are simple: olive oil and ashes.
“We have volunteers on staff who generously volunteer a forehead to test out the mix, or I’ll just use my hand,” he said.
Hours earlier in a fire pit erected in the church courtyard, Holy Name staff burned palms that were returned in the previous weeks by parishioners who received them on Palm Sunday last March. The ashes will be supplemented by ashes ordered from a supplier, said Zamora, who is confident his ash/oil blend will stick.
“Everyone was good and crossed on Ash Wednesday last year,” he said.
Fr. Ethan Jewett, of Grace Episcopal Church in the Printer’s Row neighborhood, mixes ash with holy water to create a paste that does the job.
“You always have to allow for a certain amount of evaporation throughout the day. A lot of people will administer it dry, but those don’t tend to stick very well,” said Jewett, who has a unique ash-distributing game plan.
In an effort dubbed “Ashes to Go,” he will stand on the sidewalk LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard Wednesday, outside the Chicago Board of Trade, to administer ashes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“A lot of people with their schedules can’t make it to church so the church is bringing the experience of Ash Wednesday to the people instead,” he said.
With each ashy cross, Jewett will repeat: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
The same words will be uttered by Catholics a few blocks west, who will also be taking it to the streets outside Union Station at Adams and Clinton streets, where three lay people from the Old St. Pat’s parish will offer ashes from noon to 1:30 p.m.
Ash Wednesday opens the season of Lent for Christians.