The Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday tells us "Jesus said to his disciples: 'Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be in secret. And your father who sees in secret will repay you.'" (Matthew 6:1-6)
All of the readings speak to not showing off our piety. When we are fasting, we should not look like we are fasting, etc.
Then we are supposed to leave our ashes on all day. It seems rather "showy" to me. I do it. And all day long at work, I get the "you have something on your forehead." "Yes, I know, it is Ash Wednesday." "OH! sorry."
It does, in one way, seem like a good way to witness to people that there are Christians among them. On the other hand, if I am reading the Gospel right, it is showing off and shouldn't be done.
So, my wise readers, what is the answer to this thing I have wondered about for so many years?