The Ashes! They Burnses!

So this story flitted across my feed today:

Ashes Burned and Blistered Parishioner’s Foreheads

On Ash Wednesday, parishioners of Saint Joseph’s church in Newtownshandrum, Co Cork received their cross ashes on their forehead as many Catholics around the world did, but something different happened at St. Joseph’s.

The parishioner’s foreheads began to burn and blistered where the ashes marked their foreheads.

When Father Baker realized what was happening he stopped using the ashes at once.

“It was while I was placing the ash on the foreheads of parishioners that people began complaining about a burning sensation on their foreheads.

“I was surprised by it as I was dipping my thumb in the ashes but did not have any sort of reaction to it myself.“Once I was made aware of it, I ceased giving out any more ashes and alerted the parishioners from the altar that they should immediately remove the ashes from their heads.”

The ashes have since been sent to a lab for investigation into what could have caused the burning and blistering of the parishioners skin.

Father Baker insists this was not a supernatural event.

I want to focus on that last sentence for a minute.

I’m not sure if the word “insists” is an accurate reflection of Fr. Baker’s statement or a writerly interpolation, but it seems likely that a priest, looking to reassure a stricken and possibly jittery congregation, would hold firm to the idea that there is a perfectly natural explanation to the experience.

Something caustic probably got in the ashes. This is, all things being equal, the most likely explanation. I doubt God was singling out a bunch of hapless Irish Catholics for a little vampire-style punishment on Ash Wednesday. That would just be too outre.

“It burns!”

Probability, however, is not certainty. There was a time when a priest would have looked at this experience and the “natural/not natural” assumption would have been about 50/50. Why so quick to insist, when encountering something strange in a faith where the supernatural is an integral part, that nothing supernatural is going? The priest is part of a supernatural experience every single day. Is it so outlandish that a penitential event might begin with something a little extra-penitential?

I’m not saying it is, mind you. But I found it interesting that the initial impulse is to dismiss the supernatural completely and seek a wholly materialistic explanation. It’s not how we’ve always thought about these things, so I wrote a little bit about it in this post:

Our Ancestors Weren’t Idiots


Note to Readers: My blogging has been and will continue to be erratic. I’m down to typing mostly with one hand, and my arthritis, in the absence of the extremely expensive medicine that I’m having trouble getting (thanks Obamacare!), is making my life unpleasant. There’s just not a lot of me left over right now.