Lent has begun for Catholics, Wednesday for most, Monday for others. For some it is Ash Wednesday, and Clean Monday for others, and the Orthodox have Clean Monday the month after. Western Catholics have Ashes, few Eastern-rite Catholics do.
There was some Cleveland local news coverage of Protestants marking ashes outside. The Anglicans were distributing ashes inside, and outside their cathedral, and at the transit train station nearby; and the U.C.C. outside their national headquarters. Sometime during the last pontificate many Protestants were using traditionally Catholic practices, and it is continuing.
Amongst the Anglicans many of these practices are of long standing. "Ashes to go" [click] have come to Cleveland is an expansion. In 2007 this began in St. Louis in an ecumenical and progressive neighborhood. Reading about the genesis of this, the pastors involved could not understand Catholics and Catholicism, "why it was that Roman Catholics would not take communion from any of us, but they would take ashes on Ash Wednesday from those of us who offer Ash Wednesday services." Did none of these people study history? Did not their theology courses address the subject? Did they ever ask a Catholic? or listen to one? [click2]
Communion/Eucharist is a sacrament, it is the Sacrament. Ashes are a sacramental.
What Catholics and the Orthodox believe are the very literal words of Christ, "This is my Body". A Protestant communion is not of this nature. Protestant ministers may believe what they will, but to not know that Catholics believe what they say they believe is different than Protestant understanding is, at best, overwhelming thick. And further this act of communion defines who is in 'communion' with whom. One can believe what one will, and what is right, and logical — fine; but not to realise that someone believes something else, and that it matters, is dumb.
Now, the thoughts concerning ashes are not divergent; and being sacramentals, anyone can use them, or not. So ashes can be effective as ecumenism, and evangelism, and a thing to ponder upon. There will be people at the rail stop who will see this activity for the first time, perhaps participate also.
This outside public ashes was accepted by the Chicago Episcopal Diocese in 2011, and made national news in 2012 and began a foothold outside the US.