Catholic Cliffs Notes – Ash Wednesday

posted by Momo Fali on February 25, 2009

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I said I don’t talk about religion? Well, scratch that. I saw a lot of comments on the internet last night from people who were confused by Lent. Never fear! Momo is here! Here to set you heathens straight.

Let’s start with Ash Wednesday, because well…it’s today, and if you see people walking around with ashes on their foreheads, you won’t just think they need to bathe.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the Roman Catholic church, which is the 40 day period of preparation before Easter. For those of you who think Catholics can’t count and say, “You people drink too much! There are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter!”, that’s because Sundays don’t count. It’s kind of like kissing your grandma, in that you probably kissed her first, but you don’t consider her your first kiss. Some things just don’t count.

Ash Wednesday is a day of fast. Many Catholics will take the money that they would have spent on food and give it to the poor. Though, you know…recession. The act of fasting allows us to begin this period of reflection with a clean slate. It is a form of penance for our sins. It also makes most of us grumpy and gives us bad breath.

At Ash Wednesday Mass, the priest, or deacon or someone else authorized to do so, will take ashes made from burning the palms from last year’s Palm Sunday Mass and put a cross on the congregant’s forehead and say, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

This is to remind us to shape up real quick-like before St. Peter meets us at the pearly gates and says, “Sorry ’bout your luck.”

So for 40 days and nights we reflect. We think about our sins, we fast, we pray, we give alms and we repent. A lot of Catholics offer up sacrifices. I am giving up chocolate. Mm-hmm. That’s right. Just when the Girl Scout cookies get delivered too. This is why my Fat Tuesday dessert consisted of chocolate molten lava cake with ice cream and Reese’s Cups on top. What?

When it gets hard to bear…like when your husband eats an entire sleeve of Thin Mints in your face…you remember Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, think about how you have sinned against Him and try not to smack your husband. Then you can offer up that you didn’t eat the chocolate AND you didn’t smack your husband. That’s a Catholic two-fer.

If you see someone with ashes on their forehead today (including me) now you will know why. We are reminding ourselves that we won’t be on this earth forever and we need to be sorry for our sins. It may not hurt you to remind yourself of that as well. Catholic or not, you can’t deny that life is short and good morals aren’t so bad.

So, if you see us, we don’t care if you stare at our ashes, but don’t get close enough to smell our breath. Fair warning.


  • velocibadgergirl

    “Then you can offer up that you didn’t eat the chocolate AND you didn’t smack your husband. That’s a Catholic two-fer.” HA 😀

  • Julie in PA

    Thanks for clearing that up. I have always been a little confused about Lent!

  • Single Parent Dad

    What about if I have completed thinking about and reflecting upon my sins, in the time it has taken to post this blog comment, am I done?

  • Ed (zoesdad)

    You left out the Friday Fish Fry. Lots of Friday Fish Fry!

  • Stella

    As a Theology teacher I have to thank you because I’m pretty sure I’m going to use this in all of my classes today to explain Lent and Ash Wednesday to them!!


  • Always Home and Uncool

    As a reformed Catholic, I shall eat chocolate in your honor for the next 40 or so days. You may get to heaven first, but I’ll be fatter and happier in purgatory. Bless you, Momo.

  • Piper

    Poignant, expansive.

    You’re the best religion writing blogger I know.

    Right on!

  • FrankandMary

    I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school, my Dad worked for the Catholic school/church ON my Street, but I am an Atheist now.
    I still fast on Ash Wednesday & give something up for the Lent. For a combo of reasons, but mostly in memory of Mom, & now in memory of both my parents. ~Mary

  • St

    We’re not Catholic but we did eat pancakes for dinner last night. Our city is super Catholic so I’ve been to my share of Friday fish fries as well! My mother-in-law tried to spit-wipe someone’s ash from her forehead once…we are silly protestants.

  • Mama Dawg

    Everything I know about Lent I learned because of Mardi Gras.

  • Ashley

    Very good summary. You should have taught my religion classes in Catholic school.

  • Tenakim

    Very good. My kids attend a very STRICT Catholic school run by Dominican Sisters, so I am always on my best ‘Catholic behavior’ during Lent- or else my kids will totally turn me in and I’m afraid of those gals!

    I had already stopped chocolate cuz of the dieting crap and decided to really drive the nail in (no pun or disrespect, JC) and give up ‘white’ stuff- bread, pastries, pasta- luckily I did not give up bitching- because there will be PLENTY of that!

  • ImakehairROCK4u2

    I learned more from this post than I did in 12 years of Catholic school, CCD, and 18 years of mass combined…and my Uncle is a Catholic Priest!

  • Lynn (Walking With Scissors)

    Wait. You gave up *chocolate* for Lent? You must really, really love God. I think it would be easier to give up sex. For realz. 😉

  • Josi

    I know very little about Catholicism, so this was absolutely fasting. In the Mormon church we fast two meals on the first Sunday of every month–so I totally get the bad breath thing. Very good summation. They really keep the palm fronds for a year? Wow.

  • Tom

    Thank you for the lesson! I’ll never forget the first time I saw someone with ashes on his forehead, and wondered why his mom let him out of the house like that.

  • kaila

    Thanks for the lesson! I always thought the ashes on the forehead were a leftover from Fat Tuesday partying…j/k

  • Monica

    Bravo Momo! Excellent summation.

    If you are on Facebook, check out the group We’re not Crazy, We’re Just Catholic:

    It’s quite funny. One of my favorites is “Offer it up” = “Quit Bitching.”

    My son suggested to me this morning that for Lent I should give up asking them to clean up. It’s so sweet that he is thinking about the state of my soul, isn’t it?

    We had jambalaya, wine, cheese puffs, chocolate, pizza, corn dogs, and root beer for dinner last night. Hope it lasts for the next 40 days. Not counting Sundays, of course.

  • Xbox4NappyRash

    I really don’t know why, but his post makes me sad.

  • Gunfighter

    Hey Momo… it isn’t just the Roman Catholics that do Lent or Ash Wednesday. The Mainline Protestant denominations do as well.

    We are Lutheran, and will be getting our ashes this evening at our Ash Wednesday service.

    I’m giving up booze for lent this year. Let’s see how cranky I am bny Easter, shall we?

  • BusyDad

    Hmmm I was raised Catholic but now I totally forget how to do it. Perhaps I should give up blogging? Heh… I know. I know.

  • Sadia

    Thanks for the practical primer. Although my husband’s the Catholic one and I’m an atheist, I’ve learned to write/call/e-mail him to let him know when Lent is coming up. There are rarely Catholic or Episcopal chaplains around to tell him what’s up while he’s overseas.

  • Erin

    Thanks for this explanation. I didn’t know any of this before! I know you said you don’t want to talk religion, but I love learning stuff like this, so if other things come up that may need explaining, please do it!

  • Lisa@verybusymomwith4

    I’ve got my ashes too–took the kids at noon today.
    Good post 🙂

  • tara

    thanks for a refreshing refresher! as a lapsed/recovering catholic married to a devout one, i could use a few more cliff notes with a sense of humor like this one.

  • Bee and Rose

    My son is going to attend an Ash Wednesday service this evening with a friend. I asked what he would consider giving up for Lent and he said, “We have to take some lint? Did you do laundry today?” Completely serious…lol!

    I read him your post and now he gets it! Thanks for sharing!

  • WeaselMomma

    Great explanation! Thanks for setting all the heathens straight!

  • Heather

    When my daughter started Kindergarten, we paid to put her in the Catholic school around the corner. I heard lots of interesting things that year, but the funniest was when she came out of school with the ashes on her forehead. I thought, wtf? How’d she get that dirty…. We’re not Catholic, I didn’t even realize it WAS Ash Wed. until she told me all about it. She was thrilled!

  • Zerilda The Superfluous Blogger

    I'm callin' you out on this one, Momo. The 'two-fer' indeed. For so it was that a catholic did quote to me that 'if you *think* of doing something, you have as much as done it in the eyes of the great bob' (although she called him god or some such).

    So I put it to you that not only did you eat the chocolate by thinking about it, but you also smacked your husband! FOR SHAME.

    FURTHER, your crimes of violence NOW include beating me over the head with a blunt object. SHAME!!!!

    Sorry, Momo, it's just that I get cranky over here, not being able to get ye olde girl scout cookies. Which means I can't *eat* ye olde girl scout cookies.

    OH AND did I mention I don't get Reese's cups?

  • Heather

    I HAVE NEVER LAUGHED SO HARD in my ENTIRE life. that was brilliant. and i’ve bookmarked it. you are fantastic!


  • newnorth

    I’m not Catholic but I went to Catholic school one year and got ashes on my forehead because otherwise I would have looked funny

  • NukeDad

    Tell Busy Dad he doesn’t have to give up blogging, just don’t post for 40 days. Wait…nevermind.

    And don’t you know it sucks to be the fry cook at Long John Silvers until Easter?

    P.S. Let me know if anonymous shows up. 😉

  • Rebecca Anne

    LOL Now I get it!
    I come by way of Heathers entry on giving out awards and I’m glad I did. What a great writer and now, I’ve learned something as well.
    Thanks so much.

  • Debbie

    I came over from that weekly award post too. Loved this. As a Catholic living in the hot bed of Baptists, I wish I had printed copies of this to give out!

  • Midwest Mommy

    I always forget that I have ashes on my head and then wondering what the heck is everyone staring at, lol!

  • the*4*of*us

    that’s about the best i’ve ever seen it explained 🙂

  • meleah rebeccah

    Ah ha, now I know!

  • Tracey

    Holy crap, that made me laugh! A Catholic two-fer. Awesome.

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