Was Satan, that jokester, up to his wily ways again — by burning churchgoers’ foreheads?
Father Eugene Baker said he first became aware of the problem when a parishioner told him during Holy Communion they were “experiencing a burning sensation.” About 30 parishioners had received ashes to mark the beginning of Lent at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Newtownshandrum, County Cork.
“I stopped the service and alerted people that there was a problem with the ash. They went to wash it off in the sacristy,” he said. Some people did get quite a nasty burn from the ash, whatever’s in it.”
Fr Baker said he had taken a sample of the ash to a public health laboratory at a local hospital to find out what had gone wrong.
“Something was either in the ash or maybe it was the way it was burned, but we can only speculate,” he said. “It did burn — you could see afterwards when it was washed off that it had burned into the skin.”
Baker’s flock is OK; most victims just slathered on some aloe vera or other soothing cream, and were soon doing fine. The priest said that as far as he knew, nothing had been added to the ash, which comes from the incinerated remains of palm fronds blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year.
Eventually, it was discovered that very dry palm leaves, rather than ones that have retained some moisture, may produce caustic ashes when the leaves are burned and mixed with a small amount of chlorinated water.
Wednesday’s greatest blessing? The free chemistry demonstration!