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#Ashtags: When posting Ash Wednesday photos, use your head

Women wear the mark of ashes at St. Helen Church in Glendale, Arizona, in this 2016 file photo. Ash Wednesday -- March 1 this year in the Western church calendar -- marks the start of Lent, a season of sacrifice, prayer and charity. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Ash Wednesday seems to offer contradictory messages. The Gospel reading for the day is about not doing public acts of piety but the very act of getting ashes -- and walking around with them -- is pretty public.

This becomes even less of a private moment when people post pictures of themselves online with their ashes following the #ashtag trend of recent years.

The online posting of one's ashes, often marked in the form of a cross on the forehead, thrills some people and disappoints others. Some say it diminishes the significance and penitent symbol of the ashes with their somber reminder that humans are made from dust and one day will return to dust.

Others say that sharing the Ash Wednesday experience with the broader, virtual public makes it more communal and also is a way to evangelize. Those who aren't on either side of the argument say it all comes down to why it's done, if the ashes selfies are posted for personal attention or to highlight the day's message.

A few years ago when this trend was just getting started, Jesuit Father James Martin, now editor-at-large at the Catholic weekly magazine America, said only the person posting knows if it is being done for the right reasons. "As with most things in life, you need a sense of moderation and only a person's conscience can tell them why they're posting these things," he told The Wall Street Journal.

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