Ash Wednesday While Traveling

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Today we’ll discuss how to observe Ash Wednesday while traveling.

I’ve left New Orleans for the frigid temperatures of the Thousand Islands region of upstate New York.  As sad as I am to have left Mardi Gras before today’s climax of the Rex and Zulu parades, I think my liver is grateful.  Tomorrow my attention turns from decadence to reflection as we enter the season of Lent.



Different Christian faith traditions vary somewhat in their observation of Ash Wednesday. In many faith traditions it is encouraged or even obligatory to attend a brief observance service to “receive ashes”. Receiving ashes is the symbolic act of having ashes rubbed on one’s forehead in the shape of a cross. These ashes are derived from the burning of the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Ashes are viewed as an outward sign of repentance.

Some traditions also dictate fasting on Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of the Lenten season.

This year, as in many years past, I’ll be traveling on Ash Wednesday. As such, I’ll be on the lookout for a service to attend to obtain ashes. I’ve found many places to observe Ash Wednesday while traveling over the years.

Locations to Observe Ash Wednesday While Traveling

* Churches in the community I am visiting. Roman Catholic churches will be observing the holiday with a special mass on Ash Wednesday. Larger communities may hold more than one including morning, lunchtime, and evening observances. In recent years, it has also become more common for Protestants to also observe Ash Wednesday.  Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian congregations to observe the rituals, for example.  I’ve found most faith communities to be welcoming of travelers seeking to observe the day.

* Airport chapels  Airports with an onsite chapel will often have special Ash Wednesday observances for travelers, airport employees, and airline personnel. Chicago area airport chapels, for example, have a published schedule of available services.  In Charlotte, there will be hourly services from 8 am to 8 pm.  JFK will offer three services and have envelopes of ashes available all day.

* Faith-based organizations. I work with hospitals and many of my clients are faith-based organizations. I’ve sometimes received ashes at an onsite chapel while in the middle of my workday. (One year I actually attended with most of the executive team from the organization I was visiting.)  Universities (either faith-based or with an active student ministry) can be a good resource as well.

But if you miss all of these opportunities, do not despair.  Ash Wednesday is not a day of obligation in any Western faith tradition.  (Not even Catholicism, although that is a common misconception).  But hopefully observing Ash Wednesday while traveling will be easier for those who wish to.


  1. ATL has had ashes the last few years as well. Only in one terminal but still it’s helpful when you can’t get to a church.

    1. I think many airports will have services – sadly many do not have information published. I fly home via LGA instead of ATL tomorrow and the LGA services are all before lunch so I’ll be hunting for a service on my drive back to Syracuse!

  2. Ironic it’s not a Holy Day of Obligation since I think more people go to Mass then than on Christmas or Easter. Go figure. =)

    1. I know, right?! I like Lent so that is one of the reasons I always try to attend. I can’t explain why everyone else goes! 😉

  3. If you ever find yourself in Chicago on Ash Wednesday, try a pepper & egg sandwich instead of Italian Beef for lunch. Most beef stands offer it on Fridays in Lent.

  4. why have a form of religion when you can have true religion. to go thru the symbolic recitual does really nothing for you .but repent or repentance in the greek means to turn about . quit living the way you are and change directions. when we do this from the heart and not thru form it will produce changes in our life and not for a season but for why do the form when you can have the real. i hope people really are sorry for there deeds. that ash wednesdaywill produce more than ashes on the forehead but heart changes .real sorrow produces definate changes in their lives that arent doing it because it is there duty.i think this world would be a better place. have a good evening.

  5. Went to Mardi Gras a couple times many, many years ago…..just loved the festivities! Always came home with beads and doubloons …not real of course! The partying was much tamer back in those days! 😉
    In fact my first airplane flight ever was on United from Pittsburgh to New Orleans for Mardi Gras 19xx 🙂

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