Hello, your friendly neighborhood Mormon here to ask about Ash Wednesday.

Nope, we don’t do Ash Wednesday, nor do we do Lent. So needless to say we are easily confused when we see people with ash smudges walking around Target. Cody thought it was a joke he wasn’t in on, I was oblivious and my friend PolkaDots thought her friend had print toner smudged on her forehead and tried to wipe it off.


So (please correct me if I’m wrong) Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the 40 days until Easter that represent the time Jesus spent in the desert, where, according to the Bible, he endured the temptation of Satan. Wearing smudges of burnt palm leaves on one’s forehead is an ancient ritual that marks the beginning of the Lenten season on (the name is all making sense now) Ash Wednesday.

So that’s good to know. And kind of (not to sound condescending) neat.
You see, growing up in Utah there weren’t a whole lot of Catholics, Episcopalians and Methodists milling about (at least that I knew about). Another thing someone who doesn’t hang with a big Lent observing crowd should know is that a lot of restaurants change their menus during Lent. I’ve noticed that Wendy’s now has a fish sandwich, Taco Bell has a “Lent friendly” menu and apparently Chipotle “puts the burrito back in Lent.”

Things I would have never understood until moving here. I don’t remember ever seeing “Lent friendly burritos” in Utah. But caffeine free Mountain Dew? Only in Utah baby, only in Utah.

So to all my Lent observing peeps, do you not eat any meat (excluding fish) during Lent? What about eggs and stuff? Anything else I should know?

And does anyone else have any “I didn’t know about Ash Wednesday and tried to wipe someone’s smudges off” stories? PolkaDots was pretty embarrassed and would appreciate any commiseration.

Have I offended anyone? I sure hope not, because that is so not my thing.


  1. In college my best friend was Catholic (I’m not) and EVERY YEAR I thought she had dirt on her forehead and tried to wipe it off. EVERY YEAR I did this and we remained friends. Tell your bud that doing it only once is no big whoop ;)

    Erika Jurney, Plain Jane Mom’s last blog post..Art and Politics. I know what I like.

  2. I grew up Catholic (not anymore, but that’s a whole nother story).

    The meat thing: it used to be no meat (red meat, pork, chicken) the whole forty days, but in more recent years (I think it was that big Vatican meeting they had years ago), it was changed to no meat on Fridays. Eggs are fine. (at least, as far as I knew)

    Also during Lent, it was common to “give something up”, like chocolate or some activity as a way of sacrifice. I was never good at this. Come to think of it, I wasn’t good at the “no meat” thing either because I would always forget halfway through the day and then feel horribly guilty.

    Marilyn’s last blog post..Daddy’s Boy

  3. Hi, I’m a lurker! Made my way over from Dutch Blitz (I think) and have been reading for a couple weeks now.
    Anyways, here in BC, pop that wasn’t brown couldn’t have caffeine in it, until very recently. I’m pretty sure it’s still hard to find clear or yellowy pop with much caffeine!
    Ok, going back to lurk mode now!

  4. *giggle* Oh my…every Ash Wednesday I’ve looked at dirty foreheads completely perplexed. It takes about 3 of them before it sinks in.

    My dad was catholic when he was young…but I was raised a heathen until high school when my parents became freaskishly addicted Christians. (Seriously. They still are. The church we go to everyone out in Hendricks knows as “the big one??” Yup…The big one.)

    Yet, despite being heathens I remember every Good Friday not being allowed our meat. It was fish (blech) and mac&cheese at my grandmas house for the whole fam (my grandparents were non-church going protestants).

    Yup…the joys of religious rituals…WHEEEEEE…

    Thanks for the giggle “Clean off that dirt!!”

    Sadie’s last blog post..This rates high on the gross meter…

  5. I have lived around Catholics all my life and have never seen someone wearing ash smudges, neither of I heard of the lent friendly menus. How strange. Only in Indy maybe?

    Amy’s last blog post..Oh, Baby

  6. Nicole M. says:

    Hi! Another lurker here. Casey questions asked to gain knowledeg are not offensive.

    It’s like Marilyn said no red meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Friday’s during Lent.

    Kids under 14 don’t have to abstain from meat but most do after they get to about second grade. Pregnant women don’t have to abstain and the elderly past a certain age(I don’t know the age).

    Forgeting and eating meat is not something to feel guilty about, if you forgot just try to remember next time.
    Everyone forgets at least once. Well except my mom and mother-in-law, but I’m not as ‘saintly’ as they are(said with an eyeroll).

    It’s one of our ways of getting ready for the most important Holy Day of the year, Easter.

    I just want to say that I appreciate your Morman “tutorials”, sometimes people don’t understand things and instead of trying to find out they just jump to conclusions.

    Awesome blog by the way. :)

  7. Pretty much everyone has answered your questions already. The only thing I would add is that Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and aside from children under 14,the elderly and pregnant women, the disabled and their caregivers don’t have to abstain either if it would harm them because of their condition or if it would interfere with the caregiver’s ability to provide care.

    I’ve never had anyone try to wipe my ashes off but I did have a friend ask me about it.

    He had seen a family in Wal-Mart with the ashes and thought they had been in a fire or something and when he saw me he asked me about it.

    I don’t think you said anything offensive at all.

    I like that you ask and also that you talk about your religion.

    I’ve known very few mormons. One guy from college told me when he dies he will get his very own planet full of women. He was dead serious. He said all mormon men are given their own planet and that is their heaven. When I asked about women, he said they eternally reproduce. Very strange. He truly believes this. After reading your posts, I wonder where he got his beliefs from. lol

    Sasha’s last blog post..She can see clearly now, part 2…

  8. I “stumbled upon” you and ended up staying. Delightful blog you have here; love your writing!


    Carol’s last blog post..Just Put Me Out. No Really, You Can Put Me Out Now. Hey! I’m Still AWAKE!

  9. I did forget, and saw one of the post office guys with ashes on his forehead and -almost- said something. Til I realized that it was ashes and OMG it’s Ash Wednesday.

    I’m silly LOL

  10. Count me in as someone who has attempted to wipe the ash from someone’s forehead before. I went in to have my haircut, and I nicely said, “You have something on your face.” She asks me, “Where?” So I went to wipe the smudge off, and she backed up and laughed and explained it to me.

    I was very embarrassed, but I haven’t made the same mistake again out loud. Though I have seen folks walking around with smudges and had to mentally remind myself why.

  11. Looks like your questions have all been answered.

    I love that Nicole M said that asking questions to gain knowledge is not offensive. I couldn’t agree more.

    Jennifer’s last blog post..Watching House Hunters is the Next Best Thing to Being a Voyeur

  12. OK, let me have a go…. Ashes on one’s forehead symbolize death..the priest says as he is placing ashed on your her..”rememeber man that thou art dust and unto dust you shall return’..its to keep in mind our mortality, and death to oneself and one’s passions during this time of preparation. Yes, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. Fasting and praying. And since we are Christians(which means Christ-like) then we join Him. Cause you can’t have a Resurection with a crucifixtion!

    The Greek word for fish also happens to be the word for Christ. Also, we eat fish for mortifying our senses. Nothing wrong with a little penance every Friday.

    I always wear my ash mark with pride. I am Catholic, happy to take this journey with Christ for only 40 days out of the year.

    I am sure I have not explained it all. but I encourage you to Google the Catechism of the Catholic church…its all in there!!!

  13. Hee. It’s a strange experience to move from somewhere that is religiously homogenous to somewhere with more diversity. I moved from small towns in a Western Canadian province to Toronto, ON, where I saw Jewish people for the first time. (Seriously! That sheltered.) I had a lot of questions; there were so many things that I just didn’t know. The worst moment was when I walked into the Jewish butcher shop in my neighborhood and got yelled at by the woman behind the counter. I had asked for 100g of ham and 100g of pepperoni. She screeched: “Vee are Jewish! Vee don’t do pork!” So I bought a lamb roast instead. Mmmmm, lamb.

    The more I learn about this world, the more hopelessly ignorant I realize I am – we all are.

    Debbie’s last blog post..Hiatus

  14. PolkaDots needs to get out more…

    Meggan’s last blog post..A not so winning combination.

  15. Everyone already answered your questions but as a catholic walking around with a polkadot all day I must say it’s amazing how many folks tell you you have something on your forehead..and to watch your three year old chase you with a washcloth to clean you off is down right hilarious.

    kara’s last blog post..September 1989

  16. Before we moved to canada, we would visit often in the summers. Every time we visited I would get horrible headaches. We finally figured out it was beacuse Mountain Dew in Canada has no caffine, every summer vacation i was going through major caffine withdrals. Now that we moved here, every so often we take a trip to the boarder so I can stock up on caffinated Dew. and then I ration it. but I could stop at any time…really I could.

  17. Hi Casey!
    Love your blog, and love that you are so open about your religion and open to learning about others!
    Looks like other commenters have answered any questions that I could have.
    My best friend mentioned a few years back that she stopped some people shopping at Target with ashes on their foreheads, and asked them what play they were all in. ha ha!
    We went to church last night, so pretty much the only people who saw us with ashes were the other church goers. My daughter argued with me about washing them off this morning before school, though.

  18. Thanks Laura. I was going to bring up the whole “Canada’s Dew doesn’t have caffeine”, but you beat me to the punch. My take, however, is that I’ve always lived in Canada, and until recently, I didn’t know that Mountain Dew had caffeine in it in the States. They tried the caffeinated version here for a few months, but it tanked and we’re back to the caffeine-free stuff. I thought it was a novelty, like Dew was trying to be like Red Bull or something.

    Silly me.

    Jen O.’s last blog post..Baby Brain

  19. Hi Casey! I just want to say Thank for Asking! I think other commenters covered the meat and fasting aspects, and I was glad to see that Bridget covered something I consider essential which is that the ashes are to remind us that we came from dust and to dust we will return. When you feel the ashes being smudged onto your forehead in the shape of the cross and hear the priest say this, it’s pretty powerful.

    Amy’s last blog post..Wordless Wednesday – The Beach

  20. I converted to Catholicism a few years back…I’m a terrible Catholic. I have no idea what it’s all about.

    I think the smudges are weird and yes, I’ve tried to wipe them off of people, not knowing what the hell I was doing.

    You live, you learn.

    ~JJ!’s last blog post..Blew a what?

  21. Living in the middle of Catholic country, Minnesota I should know more about Ash Wednesday than I do. (I know more abuot it after reading your post than I did after living here for 10 years.) All I know is that every year it takes me a while I figure out why every person over the age of 50 that I come across has dirt on their forhead.

    Jen’s last blog post..Let’s get this show on the road

  22. I’ve been a Baptist my whole life, but recently starting attending a Methodist church since I play the piano for their traditional services. We had an Ash Wednesday service last night and it was my first time to get the cross on my forehead. When they put the ashes on my forehead, they said “Repent. Believe.” It was really interesting and moving. (I thought I’d clarify that it’s not just Catholics who observe Ash Wed.)

    Jennie’s last blog post..Super Man(ning)

  23. I grew up Catholic but am no longer part of any religion. That being said, I still forget on Ash Wednesday why folks are walking around with a smudge on their forehead. Then I remember! After growing up in Vermont and then living in SLC, now I live in an uber-Catholic city and there are Friday Fish Fries, Lenten friendly menus, and the whole works. And I think there are some old school Catholics around here that won’t eat meat on Friday throughout the entire year. The Catholic church doctrine used to state that you could not eat meat on any Friday. Maybe it still does. Hmmm….

    andrea’s last blog post..Searching for the Truth

  24. Heh. I caught myself, but I very nearly told an Admin at my office yesterday that she was a sloppy toner chick. It doesn’t matter how many Catholics I’m around, I always forget about Ash Wednesday. Always.

  25. Catholic born and bred. Our family wasn’t too big on the no meat thing other than the actual day of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. THe rest of Lent we ate meat.

    Other friends though were more hard care – no meat on Ash Wednesday as well as nothing from an animal (no eggs, cheese, dairy etc) – think I lucked out there.

    T.’s last blog post..Ode to T.

  26. I’m curious about Sasha’s comment because I’ve heard similar things. But in the version I heard the guy doesn’t get a lot of different women – it’s just him and his wife and she’s eternally preggo, populating the planet. Any truth to that? I love learning about your church.

  27. I went to Mass yesterday for Ash Wednesday. It was the morning service so all the school kids were there. I happened to be wearing a red sweater and khaki cords.

    Guess what the school uniform colors are?

    mayberry’s last blog post..Did I mention he loves show tunes?

  28. Here in Wisconsin, there is a fish fry every Friday some where. Some restaurants do it all year. I think it is just tradition stemmed from Catholic tradition. A very yummy tradition if there is lots of tartar sauce! I haven’t seen lent friendly menus but I don’t eat out much. Interesting to learn that people fast on Ash Wednesday. Even more interesting that it doesn’t include younger than 14. Being LDS (Mormon) there is no set age for starting to fast on the once a month fast Sunday but I know people that have there kids start at age 8 (the age of accountablity and baptism). Just thought that was interesting.

  29. Don’t worry about trying to smudge the ashes off. I think the “hey, you’ve got something on your face” incident happens to all of us crazy Catholics.

    That being said-Ash Wednesday and Lent are a pretty cool time. I spent last night explaining it to my (non-Catholic)boyfriend (who immediately pointed out the black smudge on my forehead). It’s really nice to have a time set aside that forces you to reflect and look a bit outside yourself. Thanks for the post!

  30. Fellow Utahn here. Not mormon though, but not catholic either. I now live in Houston and work at a university. Imagine my surprise when our student worker came in with a big black smudged dot on her forhead. “Uhhh, should I tell her?” I thought. I decided against it, thinking that surely she should know by now that she has some sort of gunk on her face. Thank goodness I kept my ignorance to myself!

    Then again last night as I took my daughter to dance class. Out walks her teacher with a big black smudge. It took me a minute to think about it all and remember the details. And thankfully while my brain worked it’s magic, I said nothing.

  31. I’m not Catholic either but growing up in NJ I was definitely a minority not bowing to the Pope and all :) I know beliefs differ but most Catholics I know just don’t eat meat on Fridays. Not sure exactly why that is. The biggest part of Lent is you are supposed to give up something you love as a sacrifice (most people pick chocolate) you don’t have to be Catholic to do that, many Christian’s I know give up something for Lent. I know that’s a quick pat answer but it’s the best I can do with the toddler running around!

  32. Essentially, Mormons believe that a husband and wife can become like God and create spirit children to populate a planet or planets. I just wanted to quote this in case anyone wanted to read it.

    I found the following excerpt on lds.org in the lesson manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor.

    “It is for the exaltation of man to this state of superior intelligence and Godhead that the mediation and atonement of Jesus Christ is instituted; and that noble being, man, made in the image of God, is rendered capable not only of being a son of man, but also a son of God, … and is rendered capable of becoming a God, possessing the power, the majesty, the exaltation and the position of a God. As it is written, ‘Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.’ [1 John 3:2.]

    As a man through the powers of his body he could attain to the dignity and completeness of manhood, but could go no further; as a man he is born, as a man he lives, and as a man he dies; but through the essence and power of the Godhead, which is in him, which descended to him as the gift of God from his heavenly Father, he is capable of rising from the contracted limits of manhood to the dignity of a God, and thus through the atonement of Jesus Christ … he is capable of eternal exaltation, eternal lives and eternal progression. But this transition from his manhood to the Godhead can alone be made through a power which is superior to man—an infinite power, an eternal power, even the power of the Godhead: for as in Adam all die, so in Christ only can all be made alive [see 1 Corinthians 15:22].

    Through [Christ] mankind are brought into communion and communication with God; through His atonement they are enabled, as He was, to vanquish death; through that atonement and the power of the Priesthood associated therewith, they become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, and inheritors of thrones, powers, principalities and dominions in the eternal worlds. And instead of being subject to death, when that last enemy shall be destroyed, and death be swallowed up in victory, through that atonement they can become the fathers and mothers of lives, and be capable of perpetual and eternal progression.”


  33. I can’t really help with the lent answers, but I must say, I want some of that caffeine free Mountain Dew!

  34. After reading my comment, I hope I didn’t confuse people. A husband and wife create spirit children (like God), then those spirits are sent to earth/planet to receive a body and live. The whole cycle of life. I am sure Casey can explain it better if you don’t understand me.

    emmy’s last blog post..Paper Crimper

  35. You’ll have to find a Canadian supplier for your caffine free mountain dew. I remember when we went down to Utah when I was little and we would all whisper how you couldn’t have the mountain dew cause of the caffinee. We acted like it was so forbidden.

    I’m reading your ash wed. post and responses are very informative for us Mormon folk.

    Thanks for the great blog.

    Alana’s last blog post..The Cold, Cold North

  36. Hmm, it interesting you point out the menu changes. I have noticed an increased number of fast food fish sandwich comercials. Makes sense now.

    Megan’s last blog post..I forgot where I was for a second.

  37. As a “recovering Catholic” I have decided to give up Lent for Lent this year.

    Adrienne’s last blog post..Ignorance

  38. BTW CAsey, here is my grand daughters Moosh imitation http://adrienneshouse.blogspot.com/2008/01/hello.html

  39. I grew up Baptist but joined a Methodist church this year, so this has been my first time with this new ritual. I have given up saying naughty words for Lent, so it’s not only a sacrifice, but something that will make God happier with me! =) I’ve done well so far, even though there were two funny stories I wanted to tell someone that had some choice words – I just didn’t tell them because sometimes no substitute word will do! I briefly thought about giving up chocolate but I don’t know if that’s physically possible for me (not to mention that it might just double my swearing!)

    Last night after church and choir practice I stopped by the grocery store. I kept seeing people checking me out and thought I must be looking pretty cute – then I got in the car and saw that ash on my head! Oh, THAT’S why they were looking at me…

  40. Imagine the fun during Lent in our house. My husband was raised Catholic, I was not. I do the cooking in the house. EVERY single Friday I forget and cook meat. And EVERY single Friday he thinks that I’m being disrespectful. Oh, and he doesn’t eat fish, so it leaves me not too many choices.

    Lori’s last blog post..It my FAULT! Part 1

  41. I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned this – but Ash Wednesday is not just observed by Catholics.

    Got my ashes at the Episcopal church yesterday!

    Jen M’s last blog post..WWKD Part II

  42. 1438 The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice.36 These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).

    I was trying to find ash wednesday in the CCC but I found this instead. Kind of explains why Fridays in lent and Fridays throughout the year are set aside, or meatless. The church has done away with imposing meatless meals for Friday’s throughout the year but the Friday’s in lent, Ash wednesday, and Good Friday are the ones that are required.

    I am always curious why people leave the Catholic church. I notice some of the commenters have said that they left or “recovered”. I know this sounds odd, but if they would like to email me privately I would be curious to know why they left or what draws people away from the Catholic church…..I am just curious!!

  43. i have never in my life seen an ash wednesday face-smudge!! clearly, i live in the wrong place.

    ali’s last blog post..a conversation

  44. Seems like everyone has answered your Ash Wednesday questions, but I though I’d add this little Lenten confession:

    As a picky Catholic kid, I loved Fridays during Lent because they meant 1) grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner and 2) begging out of my best friend’s mom’s freaky casseroles with a pious “I can’t eat that during Lent, Mrs. Wampler.”

    And what kid couldn’t get behind that?

    Melanie at Beanpaste’s last blog post..Day 8: Just Another Snow Day

  45. I was catholic before I was mormon, I went to catholic school and everything. So lent is when you give something up for 40 days, kind of like how Heavnely Father gave up his son, for us so we could be with him again. And also when Jesus rode through the city, I think it was ash wed they put palm tree leaves on the ground as a sign of respect. So hence they burn palm tree leaves to show respect for Jesus sacrafice. Thats the jist, I am sure I am leaving SOME things out for lack of wanting to type super long but yeah, e-mail me if you have more questions

    Liam’s last blog post..Sunday

  46. I changed it to include all you Episcopalians, Methodists and Lent observing ladies. Thanks for cluing me in!

  47. Oh bridget I can answer your question why I left, please e-mail me as I can not click to find your e-mail or Casey could you send me bridgets e-mail, jaredandliam@gmail.com is mine, and I am not mean about it!

    Liam’s last blog post..Sunday

  48. As the other posters have said – wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday is a sign of repentance, and a reminder that we should prepare ourselves in the weeks of Lent and use it as a time of reflection and repentance in anticipation of the celebration of the sacrifice that Christ made for us, at Easter which is the biggest celebration during the Catholic Church year.

    I was asked by a mom yesterday at my daughter’s preschool ‘did you fall and hurt yourself, you have something on your forehead’ and for the first time in my life, I had to explain to someone what it was. Growing up in Ireland, most people know what it is :)

    The no meat thing – is slightly different here in the USA than what we’re used to in Ireland. As a previous poster said, it used to be no meat at all during lent, and it used to be no meat on Fridays throughout the whole year. The Catholic Church in Ireland, is more relaxed about this and really the only days they urge the faithful to abstain from meat are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

    Further to this, there will even be certain Priests who will point out that what matters is the sacrifice or the penance for the individual – if forgoing meat is no big deal for someone, then is that a true sacrifice? Perhaps abstaining for something else, or reaching outside of one’s comfort zones would be more of a sacrifice and could be argued, may be more important than abstaining from meat :) I abstain from meat on Ash Wed and Good Friday – but eat it every other Friday.

    Annie’s last blog post..Three year old logic.

  49. Jesus rode through the city on Palm Sunday, not Ash Wednesday.

    megachick’s last blog post..the mystery of the stolen snow

  50. not offended…and pretty impressed with what you know about a religion that’s not yours….

    can’t say the same for myself. I’m clueless when it comes to other religions…

    emily’s last blog post..Kipiis This! Review and Giveaway…