These Hands Are Meant To Bless; Why My Conscience Is Bound Regarding The Imposition Of Ashes

When a baby is baptized, I place my hand upon her, drawing two crosses while saying, "Receive the sign of the holy cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified." Then I say, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

When the child kneels at the altar with mom and dad, I draw a cross on her head saying, "The Lord bless and preserve you in your baptismal grace to life everlasting." 

When the child grows up and is confirmed, I place my hand upon her head, saying, "The almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life everlasting." 

When the young lady comes for private confession, I place my hand on her head, saying, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

When the young lady comes to the altar for communion, I extend my hand with bread, saying, "Take, eat, the true body of Christ for you." 

Later in life, when she becomes an adult, and her boyfriend joins the church, I extend the right hand of fellowship, welcoming him to the church, saying, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." 

When the couple kneels before the altar to be married, I bless the couple at the end of the marriage rite by placing my hand above their union, saying, "The almighty and gracious God abundantly grant you his favor and sanctify and bless you with the blessing given to Adam and Eve in Paradise, that you may please Him in both body and soul and live together in holy love until your life's end." 

When she is in the hospital struggling with a pregnancy, I will hold her and her husband's hands and pray the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father, who art in heaven…" Then, before leaving the hospital, I will extend my hand and draw a cross on her head, saying, "May the Lord chase away all fear, for you belong to Christ today and forevermore as His baptized child."

When I – as a pastor - touch all my parishioners, it is to bless and distribute gifts to them.  This is why my conscience is bound regarding the imposition of ashes.  I cannot, with a clear conscience, use my hands to apply ashes to the foreheads of Baptized Saints while saying, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." My hands in the Office of Ministry are meant to bless and deliver gifts to my parishioners; they cannot apply a sign of grief and death.    

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